Expectant Motherhood by Nicholson J. Eastman, M.D., 3/5
In the last eight months, since I first found out that I was expecting a baby of my own, I have learned a lot about pregnancy and childbirth from a variety of sources. This vintage book from 1957 is the oldest of all, but I was delighted to discover that a surprisingly large amount of the information and advice it gives still survives, little changed, in our modern age. To me, this is encouraging proof that the process of growing and delivering a baby to the world is natural and something most women are innately empowered to accomplish.
Of course, much has changed in the field of medicine in the 60-plus years since the third edition of this book was published, leading to some fascinating insights into the past. For example, I had never thought to wonder how pregnancy tests worked before the modern “pee stick” was invented in the 1970s. I learned that the easiest and cheapest method was simply to wait until an expected menstrual cycle was at least ten days late, at which point chances were good that you were pregnant. The downside of this approach is obviously that you do not receive positive proof of pregnancy, just an ever-increasing likelihood of it. For those requiring more certainty, a much more expensive option was to wait two weeks past the missed menstrual cycle, inject a mouse or rabbit with the woman’s urine and, forty-eight to seventy-two hours later, dissect the unfortunate creature to check its ovaries for changes! The “frog test” also involved the injection of urine, but pregnancy was confirmed by the development of frog eggs in only eight to eighteen hours and the frog would happily survive. Needless to say, peeing on a stick seems much less gross and inconvenient after learning about these alternate methods of the past!
Why I read it: a gift from my sister.
Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest
Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest by Ruby El Hult, 3/5
This book, written in 1957 about events that largely took place in the late 1800s, occupies a strange middle ground both methodologically and temporally. Not only was the author’s research ability limited to the pre-Information Age resources of her time, but there was the further complication of the existence of personal accounts from living people who were within a generation or two of original events (close enough to be convincing, but not close enough to be reliable). Thus, the book is an awkward mix of fanciful hearsay and dry research that takes a few chapters to get into the spirit of. Whether entirely true or not, these stories provide interesting insight into the early history of the Pacific Northwest and the world of pioneers, pirates and prospectors.
Why I read it: The sequel, Treasure Hunting Northwest caught my eye in a used bookstore so I thought I’d better buy the original too.
Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island by Thor Heyerdahl, 5/5
This account of the first serious archaeological expedition to Easter Island could not be more exciting if it were set on a different planet entirely. Heyerdahl and his crew unearthed ancient statues, carvings and structures that had never been seen by outsiders before and some of their finds amazed the native residents as much as themselves. Even second-hand, the thrill of exploration and discovery was intoxicating. I did experience moral qualms caused by the author’s sometimes manipulative approach to wheedling secrets out of the islanders and it was a bit disturbing how willingly they seemed to trade their ancient artifacts for cigarettes. Still, it wasn’t a completely one-sided relationship–the expedition uncovered new statues, shed light on the island’s history, corroborated some of the local legends and encouraged the native people to remember their past and even revive some almost-forgotten traditional skills.
Why I read it: I’ve been an admirer of Heyerdahl since reading Kon-Tiki and wanted to read this book also before visiting the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo, Norway, with my brother next month.
A picture quote I made: