Month: September 2011

The Oxford Textbook of Medicine

Oxford Textbook of Medicine 5/eEarlier this year, just before Oxford University Press’s flagship medical title, the Oxford Textbook of Medicine, went online for the first time, I met all three editors of the book and interviewed them about it. The book attempts no less than a full digest of the current state of medical knowledge, and is therefore a huge – and hugely ambitious – undertaking.

I was keen to find out more about the values which underpinned the book and also the practical side – how is it possible to stay on top of such a vast and ever-changing field, what does the future hold for the book now that it has gone online, and what are the pleasures of working on such a long-term project?

Though the book is intended primarily for professionals, it also finds its way into other contexts; it’s often cited in courts of law, for example. So I hope that this interview will be of interest to medics and non-medics alike. After all, it’s far from unlikely that at some point in your life a medic will refer to this book with reference to your own health care…

Key to speakers’ initials:

DAW – David A. Warrell, Emeritus Professor of Tropical Medicine and Honorary Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford

TMC – Timothy M. Cox, Professor of Medicine, University of Cambridge; Honorary Consultant Physician, Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Cambridge

JDF – John D. Firth, Consultant Physician and Nephrologist, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

1. First I asked about the origins of the book and the principles on which it was founded (DAW). Click here to listen to David Warrell’s answer.

2. What is the audience for the book and how is that reflected in its content? (JDF, DAW) Click here

3. What sort of contributors have the editors recruited to the project? (JDF, TMC) Click here

4. What brief do the contributors get before they write their chapters? (JDF, DAW) Click here

5. What does the move online mean for the Oxford Textbook of Medicine and how will the book maintain its relevance? (JDF, DAW) Click here

6.  Do the editors need to be constantly aware of the need to balance the theory and practice of medicine in their presentation of it in the textbook? (JDF, DAW, TMC) Click here

7.  Medicine is practiced in very different economic, political and cultural contexts around the globe. How does the Textbook cope with that fact? (JDF, DAW) Click here

8. Does complementary medicine belong in a book on evidence-based medicine? (TMC) Click here

9. The chapter on psychiatry says explicitly that some readers may find it an unnecessary add-on. Clearly this is not a view shared by the book’s editors. (TMC, DAW) Click here

10. I remarked that successive editions of the book must have reflected the changing role of the physician over the past decades… (TMC) Click here

11. … and also of course changes in human behaviour. (TMC) Click here

12. I wondered whether in a sense the whole book was a reflection of the editors’ view of what the ideal physician would be like. (JDF, DAW) Click here

13. How will updates happen now that the book is available online? (JDF) Click here

14. Is there a danger that, with all the advances in contemporary medicine, the Textbook may cease to be able to keep up with progress? (JDF, DAW) Click here

15. Finally I asked all three editors for their personal impressions of being an editor of this flagship publication. (TMC, JDF, DAW) Click here

Is that a fish in your ear?

Last week I interviewed David Bellos about his new book on translation, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? (Penguin Books) and he drew my attention to this wonderfully creative and witty animation produced by Matt Young and Alan Trotter.

David explained that the film was unscripted; the filmmakers simply chose a section of their conversation with him and came up with typography and images to illustrate it. Or perhaps “simply” is the wrong word, since clearly a great deal of thought and artistry has gone into the film to make it bounce along with such a stylish sense of rhythm and pace.

My interview with David will be available on Blackwell Online shortly.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst on Becoming Dickens

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s biography of the first three decades of Dickens’ life is published by Harvard University Press next month. It’s a terrifically readable, refreshing look at his life story which rescues Dickens from a sense of inevitability, that the only fate reserved for him was to become the greatest novelist of his day. From the very first page of the book, Robert embraces the counter-factual to jolt us out of our complacency and shows how often Dickens’ life could have branched off in another direction entirely.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst on Becoming Dickens from George Miller on Vimeo.

Martin Kemp – Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon

Martin Kemp Image to Icon coverNext month, renowned art historian Martin Kemp publishes Christ to Coke, a richly ilustrated exploration of how eleven images, from the face to Christ to the Coke bottle, have become icons. Along the way, he also investigates the stories of the cross, the Mona Lisa, the double helix and Che Guevara, inter al.

Martin Kemp

1. When I interviewed Martin about the book, I began by asking him to define what he meant by an icon. [Click here to listen to extract.]

2. Next I asked him to sketch out the process by which an image turned into an icon. [Click here]

3. How, I wondered, did he select the eleven images that he features in the book? [Click here]

4. Why was Christ the first image he selected? Did that mean the ancient world didn’t produce other icons with staying power? [Click here]

Christ5. The image of Christ had to overcome obstacles in order to become an icon. Martin Kemp explains these here. [Click here]

6. In many instances, the icon draws some of its power from its backstory. How does this work? [Click here]

7. What part do chance and accidents play in an image becoming an icon? [Click here]

Stars and stripes8. Martin Kemp reflects on the great emotional power invested in the Stars and Stripes as an icon. [Click here]

9. All the icons in the book share at least one common characteristic: their ability to retain power. [Click here]

Che Guevara

10. In our image-saturated visual culture today, does Martin Kemp think it has become harder for an image to make the transition to icon? [Click here]

11. In terms of subject matter, this book marks something of a departure for Martin as a writer. He explains this here. [Click here]

12. From the world of modern science, Martin Kemp chose two icons:  the double helix and ‘e = mc2’. Does the great complexity of science mean that it is much harder for it to generate icons? [Click here]

Le Monde diplomatique podcast – The Rise of Europe’s Far Right

Nick Griffin“If they [far-right parties] can actually get their act together and leave specific ideological questions behind them, they can form a bloc in the European Union, get access to public money, and take advantage of a growing anti-elite and growing anti-European Union sentiment that’s felt by vast sections of European populaces.”

– K. Biswas

In this month’s podcast for Le Monde diplomatique, I talk to journalist and author K. Biswas about the fortunes of Europe’s far-right populist parties, many of which have entered mainstream politics in ways unthinkable a decade ago.

We discuss the role of the media and of leadership in their rise, and also how to interpret July’s tragic events in Norway in the context of far-right politics.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

Polity podcasts: Sylvia Walby – The Future of Feminism

Walby Future of FeminismSylvia Walby is Professor of Sociology and UNESCO Chair in Gender Relations at Lancaster University. Her publications include Theorizing Patriarchy, Globalization and Inequalities, and Gender Transformations.

I interviewed her recently about her latest book, The Future of Feminism, described by a reviewer as “[a] balanced and thoughtful assessment of the changes feminism has wrought and the challenges it faces”.

1. I began by asking her if she could understand the forces and pressures that created the widespread assumption that we are living in a post-feminist age. [Click here]

2. In her book, Sylvia Walby discusses how feminism has changed form from its early days. I asked her to give me a tour d’horizon of those variant forms here. [Click here]

3. Sylvia Walby contends that the “depth” of a democracy is critical to determining how successfully a feminist agenda can be pursued within it. I asked her to expand on this notion here. [Click here]

4. Despite progress, violence against women remains a problem in many different contexts. Given the range of different interventions – global human rights, international co-ordination, local grassroots – I asked Sylvia Walby if it was possible to assess their relative effectiveness. [Click here]

Sylvia Walby 4

5. If Sylvia Walby had been asked twenty years ago about where she thought the feminist agenda would be today, how accurate would her assessment have been? [Click here]

6. “Promising start, but major challenges ahead” is the heading of one of the final sections of the book. How optimistic is Sylvia Walby that those challenges can be met? [Click here]

To listen to the complete interview, click here.

To watch a short video about the book, click here.

Polity podcasts: John Urry – Climate Change and Society

John Urry Climate Change and SocietyJohn Urry is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University. His many publications include Sociology Beyond Society and After the Car.

I met him recently in Lancaster to talk to him about his latest book, Climate Change and Society, which explores the significance of human behaviour for understanding the causes and impacts of changing climates and responding to those impacts.

1. I began by asking him about his central thesis, that sociology ought to replace economics as the main discourse for understanding anthropogenic climate change. [Click here]

2. Next I asked about whether understanding how complex systems functioned in the past and present can provide any guidance to the future. [Click here]

“Sociology can bring out the enduring social and economic conflicts which inhibit change…”

3. John Urry reflects on how sociology can sharpen our understanding the vested interests of the “carbon military-industrial complex” and how those interests constrain responses to climate change. [Click here]

4. In Climate Change and Society, John Urry writes that we shall all have to become futurologists by necessity. I asked him about the difficulty of this, given that we are dealing with two highly complex systems: the climate and human societies. [Click here]

“There is a very good reason why no future is good…”

5. John Urry on the “narrowed range of possibilities” that the twentieth century bequeathed the twenty-first. [Click here]

To watch a short video about the book, click here.

To listen to the complete interview, click here.