Book Reviews - Every day Calculus, Hyperbole and a half, Complications

It has been sometime since I last wrote. This sentence gives me a feeling of déjà vu; I think I must have written this in another blog post. Shows just how regular I am in my writing. Anywayz ...... :)

So what's been happening lately ? Nothing .. really !!! Work, home and a bit reading. Not much travel .. me thinks I have completely settled down in a way I never had before. Of course with 3 schedules to maintain it is not so easy to get time for travel at least.

I had promised myself at the beginning  of the year that I would read more non-fiction but I think I have not managed to read much. My rate remains the same. My book collection got corrupted and I lost some of the notes I had made too. Bad luck.

However although I have not finished even 1% of the books I want to read - I was itching to write a blog post on some recent books. So here they are .....

1. Every day Calculus - Oscar Fernandez

What I really loved about the book is that - the author takes us through a regular day and shows how calculus is used in seemingly ordinary things. And the writing is humorous and witty. I wish calculus was taught this way.

There are quite a few cases / stories in the book as the author muses about everyday things and then leads to the math behind it. Great way to handle the topic. Actually reminds me of Stephen Strogatz whose New York Times column fascinated me for they were very well-written essays on applied mathematics.

Some of the case studies in the book -

1. There is the case of the famous voltage "stepping down" case between AC and DC electricity which I remember amazed me when I had read about it in school. At that point I did not understand the calculus behind it.
2. The steam arising from a cup of coffee leads to derivatives with respect to time taken to cool the coffee.
3. Transmission of common cold to rate of fishing sustainability.
4. Why the raindrop which falls from 13000 feet and increases in size and speed  does not crash through the umbrella?
5. Radio signal that powers his alarm clock and the math function behind it.
6. How the rate of hot chocolate dispenser that pours chocolate at a fixed rate can lead to analysis of reservoir levels after heavy rainfall and may be the basis for evacuation if flooding is suspected.
7. The angles of arterial branching  .... and so many more.

This list is by no means exhaustive - it is a mere indication how the author takes us on a fascinating journey through the lens of a single day !!!
All in all - yeah I think a third reading to appreciate the book may be in order. [ I have not done the math in the book - so far have just been reading about the omnipresence of calculus in every day life ]

A highly recommended read !!!
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2. Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh

Ordinarily this is not a book I would pick up but it was recommended by Bill Gates and it made me curious. While I could not identify with most of the chapters in the book one topic stood out. It was on depression. It is eerily true in what it describes. The absolute absence of emotion. Concise and beautifully written - it was just spot on.

3. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science - Atul Gawande

An oft-repeating thought that ran in my mind while reading this book was - how did doctors allow this book to be published? It exposes human errors that surgeons can make in their practice. Note the word practice - and that is what the life of a doctor is. And this with lives hanging in balance !! My husband always says that it is called practice for a reason and although I knew it at the back of my mind - this book brings it to the forefront ! Lest one think that the process is all negative it is more to do with how doctors do their best in limited time and with varying possibilities of things going wrong.

I read the book "Doctors" by Erich Segal and in it there is a a single number mentioned - "26" ...  Let me see if I can get exact the words "There are thousands of diseases in this world, but Medical Science only has an empirical cure for twenty-six of them. The rest is … guesswork." 

Scary right ? May be things are better now I am not sure; and well that book is a work of fiction. Still the guesswork part is not wrong.

From the other fiction book "The final diagnosis" - to me frankly this book was Arthur Hailey's best book and in it the dilemma the main doctor faces - amputate the girl's leg or not based on the biopsy results which were inconclusive and when sent to the two top doctors came with the opposite conclusions. I still think he was wrong to have chosen to amputate but .. these are the kind of situations that doctors face and mistakes are costly.

And the learning curve - different types of bodies, different emergency levels and to add to the confusion non-standard equipments ! A learning that has to be hidden because nobody wants to be the person being learnt upon. He admits this when his child is taken to the hospital and his reaction.

It made me laugh though that a surgeon's idea of a holiday is stitching knots in a human-like meat at a fair !! Well I guess that is what makes them surgeons !!

I cannot say I liked how doctors handle other doctor's mistakes especially when they are long standing issues. Speaking from a patient's perspective that would be a horrible situation so I felt that there has to be a better way to remove a bad doctor.

The last chapter is on intuition - how a normal case of cellulitis somehow made him question if it were really so and the subsequent change in treatment when they realized it was not a simple case of cellulitis but a flesh eating bacteria that could have resulted in amputation of the leg ( and loss of life if not diagnosed on time). On the top of it - there was no specific indicator to make him question the diagnosis but something made him do so and in that he saved a 23 year old girl from dying.

Through the entire book one thing stood out and I think it resonates better in the author's own words -

 "No matter what measures are taken, doctors will sometimes falter, and it isn’t reasonable to ask that we achieve perfection. What is reasonable is to ask that we never cease to aim for it."

And so .. next time one enters a hospital or goes to a doctor, while it is scary and one does know that anything can go wrong perhaps the idea that most doctors want to provide a cure more than anything should keep our faith alive. But, do ask questions and do your own homework before.

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