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The Book of the Heart Hardcover – January 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
From the beginning of history, the human heart has been revered, mythologized, poeticized and medicalized. In exploring these various modes, freelance journalist Young offers a very personal cross-cultural meditation on the symbolism of the heart. She begins with an excellent chapter that traces the understanding of cardiac anatomy and function, from the religious-based beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and Chinese to the work of Galen, who recognized but could not correctly explain the difference between venous and arterial blood, and Ibn al-Nafis, who suggested the role of the lungs in oxygenating blood. Young goes on to explain the basics of heart disease and to describe, in viscerally affecting prose, the process and implications of heart surgery-including the sense among some transplant patients that they have assumed elements of their donor's self. But Young's real subject is the heart as symbol of love and sacrifice. From the bloody altars where Aztec priests tore out the hearts of their living prisoners, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the broken hearts of poets and blues singers, Young examines the ways in which the heart means life and love, suffering and eros, self and desired other. Fascinating though this material is, one senses that Young is stating the obvious rather than delving into the deeper implications of her theme-but this is offset by the book's imaginative approach, handsome illustrations and unguarded sense of wonder.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ever wonder when the first successful heart surgery took place? What about the evolution of religious sacrifice, or the idea of the heart as a vessel for God's love, or why there is a heart in a deck of playing cards? What is the real scoop behind Valentine's Day, and what has a Roman priest who was beaten and beheaded have to do with love? Young answers these questions and lots, lots more as she takes an in-depth look at the heart in the four point-of-view parts, or "chambers," of this book: "The Anatomist's Heart," "The Religious Heart," "The Heart in Art," and "The Lover's Heart." From the banal, such as all the ways we use the word heart, to the bizarre, such as a recipe for pork hearts a l'orange, she seems to have overlooked no detail. Everything one ever wanted to know about the heart and then some is here. One needn't learn it all by heart to grant that Young offers enough hearty information to satisfy one to one's heart's content. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Hearts are divided into four chambers, and her book is divided into four sections called chambers. The first is about the anatomical and physiological heart, and how we came to understand scientifically what it was doing, and how to repair it when it went wrong. There is a fascinating summary of how the Egyptians, Greeks, and so on, figured the working of the heart, and how Aristotle got it all wrong and confused everyone for centuries. William Harvey published in 1628 the authoritative and scientific demonstration that the single two-sided heart was merely a pump to serve distribution of a single pool of blood to the lungs and to the body. Some saints were given new hearts by Jesus, whose sacred heart became a symbol in itself. The Aztec religion (and other tribal beliefs) promoted eating of the heart, and a thirteenth century mold exists that made communion wafers (which became flesh rather than merely representing it) in the shape of a heart. The third chamber is for the heart in art. Young defends kitsch hearts in religious and other arts, but tells us that she is writing in her room full of glitter hearts, tin hearts, Venetian glass hearts, and more, so this might be self-serving. The final chamber is for the lover's heart. There is actually not much hearty about St. Valentine, but by chance his feast day coincided with the Roman Lupercalia festival, a sort of marriage lottery. There is much lovely heart poetry here.
This is a wonderful book of heart miscellany, full of fun. Young says that pursuing her subject in the library has lead to countless spells of laughing out loud. It is easy to believe this. She has a sharp and ironic way of writing, and has made unforced connections between cultures and between centuries because the heart is universally central to all. She modestly compares her curious book to a vegetable soup - "if you find one bit not to your taste, move on, feel free - all the flavors connect up." But the whole can be taken easily, except, perhaps, by the faint of heart, and the hard hearted.