Book reviews

Geography, Sophie Cunningham. Text, 2004.
isbn 1 920 88503 x, rrp $25

Geography is an assured and engaging first novel—charting the misadventures of a young Australian journalist attempting to navigate her way through the 90s.

Catherine traces her journey with reference to the various men in her life and the headlines of the day. Returning to India at the beginning of a new century, she appreciates how lost she has become. The concluding pages find Catherine in female company turning away from the BBC coverage of the Twin Towers in flames.

The writing is as evocative in its descriptions of foreign cities and people as it is unblinking in its portrayal of sexual obsession. Seasoned with literary allusions, popular culture and real-life news events, it is at times poignant, delicate, and raw. Geography is a contemporary fable; complete with a moral gleaned from hard-won experience. It is unclear whether this experience is that of the character or her creator. Certain personal events appear to have been included (unnecessarily) on the basis of historical accuracy alone. And the voice urging us to heed the lessons of bitter experience sounds more like a direct appeal from the author than the character of Catherine advising her companion. Despite these distractions, Geography is a lively tale likely to strike a chord with travellers in general and young women in particular.

Steve Gome

Stem Cells: Science, Medicine, Law and Ethics
Norman M. Ford & Michael Herbert. St Pauls Publications, 2003.
isbn 1 876 29574 0, rrp $19.95

‘Ethical issues in stem-cell biotechnology loom large in people’s minds as well as in the public domain.’
From the outset of this book, Ford shows the weight that ethical questions of biotechnology continue to hold in public discussion. It is in the need for accurate and up-to-date information amid widespread media coverage that this work finds its genesis.

This book covers the four main areas of stem-cell research including the derivation of stem cells from adult tissue and bone marrow; stem cells derived from the discarded umbilical cords of newborns; foetal stem cells derived from either aborted or stillborn foetuses, and embryonic stem cells derived from the destruction and extraction of stem cells from excess frozen human embryos which remain from IVF programs. Herbert provides a well-documented examination of current international research and procedures as well as providing objective observations concerning the medical potential and shortcomings of biotechnology.

Following the scientific survey is an outline of Australian and international legislation on biotechnological research. This provides a window into the conflicting ethics of liberalism and conservatism within many countries (particularly within the US and Holland). Ford closes the book with a brief but succinct summary of the ethical questions, definitions and viewpoints of both secular and ecclesial ethicists with a clear and strongly argued partisanship toward the latter.

With an extensive bibliography of research papers, books, and websites both for and against stem-cell research, this book provides a thorough, though not exhaustive, overview of the field.

Bernard Doherty

John F. Kennedy: An unfinished life 1917–1963,
Robert Dallek. Allen Lane, 2004. isbn 0 713 99803 2, rrp $39.95

Why yet another Kennedy biography?

Dallek’s fine writing and analysis undoubtedly adds to the vast body of literature. But more important is the availability of new archival material. Dallek had unprecedented access to medical files. He tells a story of Kennedy heavily medicated, in and out of hospital, and of the suppression of reports in the press. Dallek maintains that neither Kennedy’s health nor his adultery affected him in meeting his responsibilities as president. 

Kennedy has become a mythical figure. Although acknowledging Kennedy’s faults—his overly cautious approach to race relations, the Bay of Pigs and his adultery—Dallek refuses to contribute to the myth. He does not try, as Seymour Hersch did in The Dark Side of Camelot, to debunk the Kennedy myth. Rather, he sets out to ‘penetrate the veneer of glamour and charm to reconstruct the real man’. He achieves this with remarkable success. A more balanced biography would be hard to find.

Dallek refuses to entertain the assassination conspiracies arguing they represent people’s refusal to accept that somebody as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy. An acknowledgement of the ‘chaotic, disorderly world that frightens most Americans’.
A fine biography of an intriguing president.

Aaron Martin



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