The Common Good

In the Stacks, April 5, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

‘The Undead’

By Dick Teresi, Reviewed by Elizabeth Royte

Dick Teresi explores the issues of death determination and organ donation.

How dead would you like to be before your organs are harvested for donation? According to Dick ­Teresi in “The Undead,” “pretty dead” is good enough for transplant surgeons. “If you wait for every­thing to be a hundred percent,” a physician tells him, “you’d never have organ donation.” … Adopted in 1981, the Uniform Determination of Death Act states that in order to pronounce brain death, “the entire brain must cease to function, irreversibly.” But the act is silent on how this function is measured (in one study, 65 percent of physicians and nurses couldn’t identify the established criteria for brain death). Most physicians look at the brain stem, which controls heart and lung functions, but not the cortex, which coordinates consciousness.


‘Enemies: A History of the FBI’

By Tim Weiner, Reviewed by Kevin Baker

Tim Weiner describes the F.B.I.’s history of spectacular intelligence failures.

Contrary to conventional wisdom and Clint Eastwood movies, J. Edgar Hoover did not accumulate his power by barging into the Oval Office with a thick dossier of dirt on each new president and his family. Hoover was indeed a vicious gossipmonger, yet the most damning information he possessed could not be disseminated easily. No newspaper of his time would print it, no radio or television station would broadcast it. The harder truth is that most presidents since Woodrow Wilson have been less intimidated by the F.B.I. than seduced by it. Under the rubric of protecting the nation, they secretly authorized the F.B.I. to open mail, infiltrate political parties, tap phones, perform “black bag” break-ins of homes and institutions, and draw up vast lists of Americans eligible for “custodial detention” during a crisis.

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