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Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
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A Story from the Edge of Medicine

A-BrothersKeeperA race against the clock to save a dying brother. Cutting-edge medical research that may hold the key to a cure. The scandalous death of a young patient whose case was meant to blaze the medical path to that cure. Sounds like a potboiler, but in the deft hands of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch, this true story gets the dignified treatment it deserves. When 27-year-old carpenter Stephen Heywood is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), his brilliant brother, Jamie, quits his job to help scientists find a cure before Stephen succumbs to the degenerative—and incurable—disease. As the author essentially becomes part of the Heywood family, his own mother begins a heartbreaking decline from a similar disease. And hope, he finds, becomes ever more precious.
Ecco. 356 pages. $26.95.

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"The challenge to the writer who chooses to write about dying is to find the meaning that helps comfort and enlighten those left behind. Weiner does that in His Brother’s Keeper, but by exploring ‘the edge of medicine,’ he confronts, too, a dazzling borderland of raw science and hope that doubles as a moral minefield." Steve Paul

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A captivating, suspenseful narrative, full of complex, fascinating characters and loads of pathos. … The value of books like His Brother’s Keeper is that they force the healthy to address such questions while they are healthy, rather than waiting until they and their frantic family are driven by desperation to find a silver bullet." Mark Dowie

New England Jrnl Medicine 4 of 5 Stars
"Weiner tells the story as though it were powerful fiction by focusing on the personal aspects of the case but not ignoring the social issues." Lewis P. Rowland

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[Weiner] sees the Heywood saga as a cautionary tale about the promise and peril of contemporary biomedical research. … It is a beautifully told tale, marred only by the intimation that we should not keep trying to rewrite its ending." Stephen S. Hall

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Weiner] does a remarkable job of explaining the history of medicine and the snail’s pace at which it has progressed over centuries. … In the end, His Brother’s Keeper is far more about people than science." D.J. Morel

Critical Summary

Critics unanimously praised His Brother’s Keeper, with The New York Times Book Review calling it "a phenomenal job of reporting [with] many exquisitely rendered moments." Several cited the irony in Weiner’s chronicling of the Heywoods’ torment while simultaneously facing his own mother’s fight against another rare neurological disease, and lauded his integration of the two. He writes with great compassion; Weiner’s descriptions of his mother’s battle "number among the most disturbingly beautiful passages in the book" (Seattle Times). He also ably delves into molecular genetics, stem cell research, and genetic engineering without getting mired in scientific jargon or losing focus on the Heywood family. As Weiner says, "To write about medicine has always been to confront the whole human experience."

Also by the Author

A-TimeLoveMemory.epsTime, Love, Memory A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior | Jonathan Weiner (1999): The Beak of the Finch (1994) won the Pulitzer, so here’s another to consider: a look at molecular biology and the eccentric scientists conducting genetic research. For science fans who like the heroes on the lively-Feynman side.