What We Are Reading Today: The Angel and the Assassin by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

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Updated 18 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Angel and the Assassin by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

A thrilling story of scientific detective work and medical potential that illuminates the newly understood role of microglia — an elusive type of brain cell that is vitally relevant to our everyday lives, according to a review published on goodreads.com.

Until recently, microglia were thought to be merely the brain’s housekeepers, helpfully removing damaged cells. But a recent groundbreaking discovery revealed them to be capable of terrifying Jekyll and Hyde behavior.

Under the right circumstances, however, microglia can be coaxed back into being angelic healers, able to repair the brain in ways that help alleviate symptoms and hold the promise to one day prevent disease.

Award-winning journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa began her investigation with a personal interest — when diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder years ago, she was convinced there was something physical going on in her brain as well as her body, though no doctor she consulted could explain how the two could be interacting in this way. 

The book offers us a radically reconceived picture of human health.


What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

Updated 03 April 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

The term “biography” seems insufficiently capacious to describe the singular achievement of Joseph Frank’s five-volume study of the life of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. One critic, writing upon the publication of the final volume, casually tagged the series as the ultimate work on Dostoevsky “in any language, and quite possibly forever.”

Frank himself had not originally intended to undertake such a massive work. The endeavor began in the early 1960s as an exploration of Dostoevsky’s fiction, but it later became apparent to Frank that a deeper appreciation of the fiction would require a more ambitious engagement with the writer’s life, directly caught up as Dostoevsky was with the cultural and political movements of mid- and late-19th-century Russia. Already in his forties, Frank undertook to learn Russian and embarked on what would become a five-volume work comprising more than 2,500 pages. The result is an intellectual history of 19th-century Russia, with Dostoevsky’s mind as a refracting prism.

The volumes have won numerous prizes, among them the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association.

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