Dopesick – by Beth Macy (2018)


It’s a problem that seems new, but is actually an old one – addiction to painkillers. The author goes back to trace the history of morphine, heroin and other painkillers in our society. She wrote of Civil War soldiers heavily addicted to morphine, laudanum (opium in alcohol) being given to adults as well as children, and drugstores selling heroin without a prescription. In 1920, Congress finally made it illegal to sell opiates over the counter. But these popular painkillers had gotten such a foothold that it was impossible to get rid of them.

The majority of the book focuses on the present-day, with an emphasis on heroin and Oxycontin. What is really sickening is the way the pharmaceutical company that patented Oxi pushed their pills. They lied when they said it wasn’t addictive, and gave doctors all kinds of financial rewards if they could get their patients to take it. Once people got started on it, they couldn’t stop taking it. Every time they would try to stop, they faced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain in their bones, sweats, anxiety and depression. They called it “dopesick”.

The author spent much time talking with people who were addicted to Oxi and heroin, parents who had spent years trying to help their children break a drug addiction, and an imprisoned drug dealer. Their accounts were heart-breaking. After a while, I found the stories so depressing that I had to stop reading.

So now here we are – 2018 – with the government having declared a “War On Opioids”. Pretty much every state in the U.S. now only allows you to have a week or less of pain medication, some as little as five days. As terrible as the stories in this book are, it is also terrible to see ordinary people whose bodies are permanently damaged by disease or crushing accident to be unable to get relief from their lifelong injuries. They are now stigmatized when they ask for relief, and must jump through hoops to get even weak pain pills. The only winners here seem to be the pharmaceutical companies who have gotten rich by pushing one medication after another at the doctors and the general public. Given the misery of lives lost to addiction, would it have better for opioid painkillers to have never been discovered?


Animal Testing: Lifesaving Research Vs. Animal Welfare – by Lois Sepahban (2015)

animal testing

Lois Sepahban is an author who primarily writes books for elementary students about various science and history topics. They tend to be short books, often 32 pages. The books are written simply enough that almost anyone can understand them, and are a good starting point for many subjects.

This title caught my eye simply because it’s not something we think about very often. The medications, vaccines, and cosmetics we use without thinking are all available to us because they were were first tested on animals for safety. Half of the book points out the positives of using animals in lab testing, the other half of the book points out the negatives of using animals in lab testing. It leaves the reader to form their own opinion, and move on to more detailed research on the subject if they want.

After the Great Flood, which is recorded in the Bible, God told Noah that it was okay to eat meat as well as plants. “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”  Genesis 9:3, NIV version

But holding animals captive for the purpose of running tests is a different subject, one there is not a specific answer to in the Bible. Perhaps the most thoughtful statement in the book was: “Scientists argue that animals are close enough to humans for experiments
to work. But if so, then perhaps they are close enough to humans for
animal experiments to be unethical.”

Thunder Dog – by Michael Hingson (2011)

Thunder Dog

Michael Hingson has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t keep him from doing most things. As a child, he explored the neighborhood and even rode a bike down the street. Although the school system recommended specialized education, he attended regular schools all the way from kindergarten through high school. Michael learned Braille, used a white cane, and had a seeing-eye dog, but did not consider himself to be handicapped. He attended college, married, and got a job on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center in the north tower.

Michael and his guide dog Roselle were in the office on September 11, 2001 when terrorists flew airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers. With the building on fire and ready to collapse, Michael and Roselle headed for the stairwell, along with hundreds of others. The book toggles back and forth between escaping the burning building, and describing Michael’s unusual childhood.

I enjoyed reading about Michael’s childhood. I admired his parents for refusing to let their son feel any different from the other kids. Their attitude rubbed off on Michael, and he was able to find ways to do things without having sight. The book also showed how invaluable guide dogs are in helping those who are blind live a normal life. The story of the terrorist attack on September 11th is a sad one, but Michael and Roselle’s story brings light to a dark day.

More Deadly Than War – by Kenneth C. Davis (2018)

More Deadly Than War

Why did they not teach us about the Spanish influenza when I was growing up in school? I don’t remember history teachers even mentioning it. The answer is on page 204 in this book:
“After the twin horrors of world war and the Spanish flu, many Americans longed for a return to normalcy – a word used by President Warren G. Harding in his successful 1920 campaign for the presidency. It may be one of the reasons that very few people wrote talked about the Spanish flu and that it largely disappeared from public memory – becoming a piece of hidden history.”

The Spanish influenza lasted a few years, then vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. Everyone said, “Thank God it’s done!” and then did their best to forget how devastating it had been. No one wants to think about something that killed millions of people indiscriminately. It killed upwards of 50 million people worldwide (some estimates go as high as 100 million). But what if it suddenly re-appeared?

The descriptions of suffering and dying people were not pleasant to read, but the author did a very thorough job of researching the illness and recording the events in this book. It is impossible to convey the horror in a brief book review. Some takeaways from my reading of this book:

1 – Nurses did not get enough credit for being ministering angels to their patients. Many of them ended up dying themselves as they tried to provide compassionate care.

2 – Quarantine and cancelling large public events are key to spreading the virus when you are in a situation such as this.

3 – Vaccines hold the most hope for defeating viruses before they take hold of entire communities, since influenza cannot be treated with antibiotics. I do believe that some people have had serious reactions to vaccines, and have even developed lifelong conditions such as autism. But for society as a whole, vaccines hold the power to be able to spare us from mass annihilation from the enemy too small to see: the influenza virus.

“Disasters In Time” series

graphic novel page

Graphic novels are one way to get reluctant readers to open a book. They are quick reads, and mostly tell the story through a combination of drawings and words.  Although “The 1918 Flu Pandemic” is intended for kids, it’s fine for anyone about 3rd grade or older. The pictures and dialogue take you through one of the world’s worst periods of sickness – the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.

This book is part of a series of graphic novels called “Disasters In Time”. The books are done by a variety of authors and illustrators, and cover disasters in history. After reading this book, I checked on Amazon and found many other graphic novels in the series:

– The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard
– The Donner Party
– The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
– The Attack On Pearl Harbor
– The Hindenburg Disaster
– The Apollo 13 Mission
– Shackleton And The Lost Antarctic Expedition
– The Challenger Explosion
– The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
– The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871

If you’re looking for an interesting way to present history to your child or students, or just want the short version for yourself, this is a good series to check out from your local library.

Shackleton And The Lost Antartic Expedition  The 1918 Flu Pandemic



The Girl With Seven Names – by Hyeonseo Lee (2015)

The Girl With Seven Names

It is a terrible thing to grow up believing what your parents, society and government tell you is true – only to find out years later that everything you were taught was a lie. Hyeonseo Lee grew up on the northern edge of North Korea. Only a river separated them from the country of China. Just before her 18th birthday, she impulsively sneaked across the border at night, and went to visit an aunt and uncle. It was there that her eyes were opened to the truth. Her country was not the greatest country on earth. But now that she had left North Vietnam, she was considered a traitor. It was too dangerous to return. But it was also dangerous to stay, as she could be fined or arrested for being in China illegally.

This began years of living under various names and in various places. Hyeonseo Lee missed her mother and brother terribly. There were two things she wanted above all else: to be reunited with her family, and to live in freedom. Little did she know how difficult it would be to achieve, and how much it would cost.

Parts of the book were hard to read, like children watching executions and citizens being imprisoned and beaten simply for wanting to have a better life. Other parts of the story were heart-warming, like the kindness of the Australian stranger.

This is a very moving biography, vividly showing the reader the daily life of North Vietnam. Think your life is hard? Think your government is unfair? Books like this should make everyone living in a democratic society get down on their knees and thank God for where they live.

The Radium Girls – by Kate Moore (2017)

The Radium Girls

I remember learning in history class of the unsafe working conditions in many of the factories during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but never learned about the radium girls. In 1917, during World War I, a small factory began painting watch and clock dials with a special paint that made them glow in the dark. The ingredient that gave the glow was radium, a newly-discovered element. The factory workers were all young women, and were paid quite well compared to other factories. People loved the luminescent products, and the business grew. Other factories began manufacturing products with radium paint.

But it wasn’t long before some of the “girls”, who ranged in age from 13 years old to the late 20s, started having an odd variety of physical ailments. Pain in the joints, loosening teeth, jaw infections, odd growths on their bones, and weight loss. At first it seemed coincidental, but within a couple years, the afflicted women were convinced that they had been poisoned by the special radium paint. As more and more factory workers became sick, it should have become obvious to the factory owners and company doctor that the material they were working with was dangerous and unhealthy.

This book follows the lives and struggles of the first batch of women who had radium poisoning. This group of women fought for years to get the company to admit that the radium was dangerous, that the workers should not be putting the paintbrushes in their mouths, and that they should be compensated for their medical bills. No one should have  to go through the pain and suffering that these women did. It was a difficult book to read, one that often had me thinking how outrageous it was. But it also made me grateful for the progress that has been made over the decades in the safety of the workplace.