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On Being Born and Other Difficulties

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Drawing on a variety of sources spanning the fields of biology, literature, history, myth, medicine, and philosophy, On Being Born and Other Difficulties surveys a vast field of opinions and theories, contrasting the supremely rational processes by which we evolved on this planet with our irrational and often bizarre attempts to understand them. Gonzalez-Crussi traces millenia of misunderstandings to their sources - Aristotle, Hippocrates, Descartes, Thomas Browne, Cervantes, Rabelais, Maupassant, and Nietzsche, ...
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Overview

Drawing on a variety of sources spanning the fields of biology, literature, history, myth, medicine, and philosophy, On Being Born and Other Difficulties surveys a vast field of opinions and theories, contrasting the supremely rational processes by which we evolved on this planet with our irrational and often bizarre attempts to understand them. Gonzalez-Crussi traces millenia of misunderstandings to their sources - Aristotle, Hippocrates, Descartes, Thomas Browne, Cervantes, Rabelais, Maupassant, and Nietzsche, among others - engaging them with precision, humor, and humanity.
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Editorial Reviews

Abigail Trafford
On Being Born takes off when the author weaves colorful, discredited information of the past with the scientific findings of the present. This slim book is a lyrical romp, from Hippocrates' jug concept of the womb to "Mitochondrial Eve," the hypothetical maternal ancestor of all modern humans, believed to have lived in Africa 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. For the most part, the reader gets a facile lesson in embryology and genetics, wrapped in an entertaining after-dinner lecture.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this learned and graceful meditation on the question "where do we come from?" Gonzalez-Crussi (There Is a World Elsewhere), emeritus professor of pathology at Northwestern University Medical School, traces the history of thought about the origins of life, from the Pythagoreans to the present day. The author begins with the mysteries of evolutionary history and the origins of each of us as individuals, and ends with an outline of modern obstetrics, sperm donation and in vitro fertilization. In between, he surveys the folly of past misunderstandings and myths; in particular, he scrutinizes misogynist received ideas about the properties of the womb and "hysteria," notions of female inconstancy, and male paranoia about virginity and paternity. The concept of "maternal impression," or links between maternal experiences during pregnancy and birth defects, provides some especially grisly material. In a chapter on the presentation of the baby at birth and the mystical powers attributed to the caul, Gonzalez-Crussi draws on his own experiences as a young medical intern in a maternity ward. He treats the skills of midwives with great respect, lamenting their eventual marginalization in industrial-age, male-dominated medicine. In a grand rhetorical style, Gonzalez-Crussi illuminates the murky depths of the history of medicine, reflecting, often morbidly, on our evolving attitudes to the natural wonders of birth, life and the origins of the universe. Illus. Agent, Lynn Chu at Writers' Representatives. (June 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of elegant and engrossing essays on the theme of birth. Gonzalez-Crussi (Emeritus, Pathology/Northwestern Univ. Medical School; Suspended Animation, 1995, etc.) blends literature and science, philosophy and religion, history and myth into his own unique meditations. Beginning at the beginning, he opens with reflections on the origins of life and the invention of sexual reproduction, and as is his wont, moves seamlessly from laboratory to library, drawing on 20th-century physiologists, Renaissance artists, and Greek philosophers. When next he considers the male obsession with female purity, he takes the reader to Egypt, said to be the Arab world's hymen-repair center, a growing business in a culture where loss of virginity has led to the murder of women by their male relatives. Following essays take up the uterus, offering both solid facts and preposterous myths about the womb; fanciful notions about procreation; and erroneous beliefs about the transmission of maternal impressions to the developing fetus. Gonzalez-Crussi draws on his own delivery-room experiences in his discussion of placental membranes, or cauls, and their purported miraculous powers. One of the delights of reading Gonzalez-Crussi is his astonishing erudition: His essay on the age-old role of midwives and their displacement by male doctors with the resultant transfer of deliveries from traditional home care to high-tech hospitals contains a startling story about the treachery of midwives taken from Diderot's Grande Encyclopedie. He ends on a somber note, expressing misgivings about the uses of reproductive technology and warning that "we know not where we are going or even where we should go."Entertaining andenlightening. Agent: Glen Hartley/Writers' Representatives
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585674497
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/7/2004
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

F. Gonzalez-Crussi, M.D., is the head of laboratories at the Children's Memorial Hospital and a professor of pathology at Northwestern University. He is the author of Notes of an Anatomist, Three Forms of Sudden Death, On the Nature of Things Erotic, The Five Senses, The Day of the Dead, and Suspended Animation. He lives in Chicago.

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Table of Contents

To begin at the beginning ... or almost 9
Believe only the delivery 32
Saga of the womb, or the perils of the mother 54
On female "impressionism" 73
Before being born, you must take sides 105
From dividual to in-dividual 127
Crossing the valley of the shadow of birth 147
The flowers of evil in the garden of biology 176
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