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His Brother's Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine (P.S. Series)

His Brother's Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine (P.S. Series)

2.7 4
by Jonathan Weiner

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Stephen Heywood was twenty-nine years old when he learned that he was dying of ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease. Almost overnight his older brother, Jamie, turned himself into a genetic engineer in a quixotic race to cure the incurable. His Brother's Keeper is a powerful account of their story, as they travel together to the edge of medicine.

The book


Stephen Heywood was twenty-nine years old when he learned that he was dying of ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease. Almost overnight his older brother, Jamie, turned himself into a genetic engineer in a quixotic race to cure the incurable. His Brother's Keeper is a powerful account of their story, as they travel together to the edge of medicine.

The book brings home for all of us the hopes and fears of the new biology. In this dramatic and suspenseful narrative, Jonathan Weiner gives us a remarkable portrait of science and medicine today. We learn about gene therapy, stem cells, brain vaccines, and other novel treatments for such nerve-death diseases as ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's -- diseases that afflict millions, and touch the lives of many more.

"The Heywoods' story taught me many things about the nature of healing in the new millennium," Weiner writes. "They also taught me about what has not changed since the time of the ancients and may never change as long as there are human beings -- about what Lucretius calls 'the ever-living wound of love.'"

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Editorial Reviews

Susan Okie
In His Brother's Keeper, the biology of nerve cells and the dawning history of gene therapy play supporting roles in a plot as finely crafted as that of the best novels. Weiner uses the Heywoods' story to illuminate the unexpected ways in which a serious illness reveals character and shifts the balance within a family.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
In a phenomenal job of reporting, Weiner practically becomes a sixth member of the Heywood family. He stays at the home of the parents, goes to church with them, visits scientists with them. When Stephen receives his ''death sentence'' diagnosis from a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Weiner is able to recreate, from a tape of the conversation, every pained ''um'' and ''uh'' of the doctor's remarks; never has such a grim discussion seemed more awkwardly realistic on the page. In conveying the dysfunctional neural signaling that characterizes diseases like A.L.S., Weiner creates an extended metaphor, drawn from the Kafka short story ''An Imperial Message,'' that is as fine as any I have read. — Stephen S. Hall
Publishers Weekly
At the heart of this report from the front lines of gene therapy and other regenerative medicine techniques lies a simple, heartbreaking question: "What would you do to save your brother''s life?" When Stephen Heywood, a 29-year-old carpenter, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), his older brother, Jaime, launched his own research project to search for a cure. It was the late 1990s, shortly after scientists had cloned a living creature for the first time. So when Jamie told a friend about research demonstrating that the DNA of every ALS victim was missing a protein, his response ("Why don't you just put the damn protein back?") seemed wildly optimistic but not entirely impossible-if they could figure out how to do it in time. Weiner (The Beak of the Finch) keeps the actual science to a minimum. The story's power derives from attention to small, human details, like Stephen's first symptoms of losing strength in his fingers. The emotional register is also strong; Weiner spends so much time with the Heywoods that they begin to refer to him as one of the family, and his closeness allows him to effectively contrast their handling of Stephen's condition to his own family's reaction to his mother's bout with a similar nerve-death disease. Weiner can't give readers a happy ending for Stephen, but he can-and does-offer a powerful account of equal parts ambition and hope. (Mar.) Forecast: Weiner's The Beak of the Finch won the Pulitzer and his Time, Love, Memory won the NBCC Award. Also, Weiner has a five-city tour plus additional lecture tie-ins, as well as other national media planned. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The multi-award-winning author examines the new biology by focusing on two brothers, one suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease and the other who quit his job to found an organization seeking a cure. The publication date was pushed up from June to March at press time. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

His Brother's Keeper
A Story from the Edge of Medicine

Chapter One


When they were boys, Jamie and Stephen Heywood loved to arm wrestle. They made it a ritual: first the right arm, then the left, then, if there was time, a wrestling match on the rug. Their rules of engagement were so complicated and so long unspoken that no one else ever learned the game. Even Jamie's best friend Duncan Moss did not know how to play. Duncan would take one step across the line on the rug. Then he would see the look on Jamie's face.

What? What did I do?

He did not know the rules.

The Heywoods lived in an old house on Mill Street in Newtonville, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. All three of the Heywood boys, Jamie, then Stephen, and then the youngest, Ben, were athletic dreamers, inventors of many rituals and adventures. The house on Mill Street is a block from a patch of woods and a pond. The brothers played football there in a corner field that belonged to a neighbor they called Aunt Betsy. Late at night when it rained hard, Jamie and Stephen snuck out with boogie boards. They hopped a fence to the creek, which got roaring in a good storm. Through the dark and the rain they rode the rapids into Bolough's Pond.

Their parents, Peggy and John Heywood, are well known in Newtonville. They love traditions, too. Each of them has served terms as Senior Warden of Grace Church, in Newton Corners. When their boys were young, they went back every summer to the dairy farm in South Dakota where Peggy had grown up. She had won a full scholarship to Radcliffe, in Cambridge, which is where she met John. Peggy worked as a therapist; she kept her practice small and devoted herself to the family.

Every seven years, they spent a year in England, where John was born and raised. John Heywood is a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an international authority on internal combustion engines. He is the son of a British coal engineer who turned to solar power early on, back when only the cranks were interested in what he had to say -- back when a maverick who worried about coal smoke, soot, and acid, and praised the power of the sun, was like a bolt from the future. John Heywood consults about energy efficiency for Ford in Detroit, Ferrari in Italy, Toyota in Japan. When he is at home, he runs MIT's Sloan Automotive Laboratory, to which he commutes from Mill Street on a bicycle.

Each summer in July or August, Peggy's side of the family gathered from across the country for a reunion at the beach town of Duck, near Kitty Hawk, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A few of the children on the beach were always honorary Heywoods, as Aunt Betsy was an honorary aunt. John and Peggy, Jamie, Stephen, and Ben each brought friends. The boys swam, sailed, surfed, and raced on the cold shining track the waves made for them. Every summer on one of their last days at Duck they played a game of basketball with their cousins and with strangers they roped in from up and down the beach, wickedly violent games that routinely sent a few Heywoods to the hospital.

As Jamie and Stephen got older, they kept arm wrestling, ritually. In their late teens and early twenties, when the two and a half years between them no longer mattered, they were perfectly matched. But Jamie became a mechanical engineer, like their father and his father in England. Jamie was intelligent and driven, and spent his days and nights working at a desk. Stephen became a carpenter, a hands-on man like their mother's father and brother in South Dakota. Stephen was intelligent, too, but he mistrusted desks and ambitions. He spent a few years swinging a hammer on a framing crew, and his right arm became unbeatable.

Late in July of 1997, when Jamie was thirty and Stephen was twenty-eight, they arm wrestled in the beach house their parents had rented that summer at Duck. Jamie was five feet, eleven and three-quarter inches tall, and he weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds; Stephen was six-foot-three, two-twenty. Jamie was keeping himself in shape, but Stephen was building his first house that year, and his right bicep and tricep were very well-defined. In arm wrestling, there is always a moment when the winner knows he has won and the loser knows he has lost. The brothers were both surprised when they realized that for the first time in five years, Jamie would force Stephen's right arm down to the table.

Jamie whooped. I beat my carpenter brother. I'm the man! I'm the man!

Stephen won the next bout, which they fought, as always, lefthanded. That shut up Jamie.

Neither of them suspected that anything was wrong.

That year a team of scientists and veterinarians in Scotland announced the birth of a strange lamb, the identical twin of its mother. The news hung above the year like a comet. All around the world, the arrival of the lamb was received as a portent, like an earthquake, a fire, an eruption, a millennial battle won or lost. Something was out of whack in the order of the world and would have to be put right, if it could ever be put right -- or else turned to advantage, transformed into acts of healing as novel as the conception of that cloned lamb.

That was also the year the world's front pages carried the story of the death of Jeanne Louise Calment, from Arles, France. She helped inspire people to hope that in the new millennium, human beings might live as long as Methuselah. Jeanne Louise Calment was 122 years old. She remembered Vincent van Gogh.

Those who loved science and those who mistrusted it felt an almost supernatural touch of hope or dread that year, as if all our human rituals were about to change forever ...

His Brother's Keeper
A Story from the Edge of Medicine
. Copyright © by Jonathan Weiner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jonathan Weiner is one of the most distinguished popular-science writers in the country: his books have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Time, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Scientific American, Smithsonian, and many other newspapers and magazines, and he is a former editor at The Sciences. His books include The Beak of the Finch; Time, Love, Memory; and His Brother's Keeper. He lives in New York, where he teaches science writing at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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His Brother's Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine (P.S. Series) 2.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book, even though at times I got lost because of the termology in it.I wish it had more to offer as to where they are today in the search for als cure. and is there going to be a part two??