The panel of expert judges had a difficult task: picking between six excellent reviews of the recently released nonfiction book The Bullet's Yaw; Refelctions on Violence, Healing and an Unforgettable Stranger.
The voting was very close and all of the reviews were scored highly. But, a choice had to be made, and here are the winners:
Many of us are drawn to the time tested TV medical drama formula used by the likes of ER or Grey's Anatomy. A victim is rushed to the hospital after some heinous crime or outrageous mishap. Doctors speak in declarative, jargon filled sentences in their urgent attempts to save John or Jane Doe. Family members and friends trickle into the hospital to color in the life that the victim was leading before landing in the emergency room. We are shocked by the nature of the injury, fascinated by the medical procedure, and begin to feel emotionally invested in the victim. But there is a problem with this formula: is often over-scripted, sensationalized, and/or fake. Dr. Ballard's autobiographical account of his dealings with one of his most memorable patients, on the other hand, is painfully real. In this short, very readable book, Ballard brings the emergency department to life. We learn the real reason why Doe is such a common surname on hospital charts, we effortlessly begin to attach meaning to medical terms, and we develop an appreciation for how the doctor's mind works in making diagnoses under severe time pressure to the robotic two-minute drill of their daily rounds. Yet in telling the story of Jeffrey Mains, an innocent victim to a shooting rampage, Ballard's compelling narrative follows his patient outside of the hospital to show how difficult it can be to regain some sense of normalcy after such trauma. He deftly uses Jeffrey's experience to underscore broader societal problems including gun control and the failure to exchange psychiatric information across state borders that indirectly abet senseless violence such as the recent killings at the Northern Illinois University. If there is a weak point to this book, however, some readers might find it difficult to invest emotionally in Jeffrey, in part because the author at times seemed to have trouble establishing a connection himself. Ironically, the perpetrator of the attack, Joseph Ferguson (and the shocking, though briefly described personal circumstances that led to his terrible crime), represented perhaps the book's most unforgettable stranger. Should Ballard ever choose to revise or expand this book, it might be worthwhile not only to generate more reader sympathy for the challenges of the healing process (perhaps by taking additional steps to humanize Mains or introducing other patients facing similar challenges), but also to delve more deeply into Ferguson's story, which provides the launching point for much of the author's social commentary on violence. Overall though, The Bullet's Yaw is an important, authoritative, and thoughtful work that is engaging enough to captivate the Grey's Anatomy audience and substantive enough to resonate with health care and policy practitioners.
Thought provoking; delivers an unexpected and impactful message
Owen S. Good (San Jose, Calif.)
Dr. Ballard's compact and engaging narrative comes through as a highly thought-provoking conversation with a brilliant dinner guest. This book's purpose and argument concerns violence and its prevention, and specifically firearms violence, which he correctly notes is an extremely toxic debate in the United States. Ballard's book earns the right to discuss it by laying a very human presentation of the challenging and harrowing details faced by an urban hospital trauma unit, details most Americans know nothing of and may never encounter even once. Ballard then trains his lens specifically on Jeffrey Mains, a badly wounded victim of a psychotic's gun rampage. Mains' cruel and unnecessary injuries and the physical and emotional challenge of his recovery are delivered first as a medical procedural, and later fleshed out in personal terms. But after laying both foundations, then Ballard states his conscience: That firearms violence is, like deaths from automobile accidents in the 1960s, "a neglected disease" in that both, in their era, pose seemingly intractable problems to trauma response physicians nationwide. In the 1960s, a combination of accident prevention and trauma medicine innovation -- both of which Ballard reports completely and cogently, with a personal association with the principals involved -- combined to reduce traffic fatalities by two thirds. Today, such a meaningful public health approach to gun violence is long overdue. Ballard, whose opinion is both personal and relevant, proposes a reasonable plan of accident prevention, as applied to firearms purchasing and ownership. One senses that it is offered in hopes that the blind risks we seem to accept today will become shockingly clear, and seem as primitive and unacceptable as the dangerous conditions a motorist faced 40 years ago.
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