4 out of 4 stars
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California Cures by Don C. Reed is a book borne out of the author’s personal concern regarding stem cell research in California, and specifically projects funded through California’s Proposition 71. He discusses the benefits and potential of stem cell research, as well as the challenges that face it.
The author’s main interests in writing this book seem to fall into three categories. First, Reed seeks to pique the reader’s interest in this research through intriguing stories of the uses and successes of stem-cell treatments. Second, he wants to make us aware of the roadblocks, especially legislative and ethically-motivated ones, that stand in the way of ongoing study. This primarily centers around the use of aborted or discarded fetal material for stem cell research and those who oppose this use. Third, the author encourages young people and scientists, especially those who are interested in biology, to pursue a career in stem cell research in California, as he states that it is both lucrative, rewarding, and in high demand.
The main body of the book is made up of chapters covering a specific area where stem cell research might be useful, ranging from the possibility of curing cancer or regrowing hairs in the inner ear so that hearing can be restored, to even growing new organs so that we no longer have to rely on the insufficient donor system.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I very much enjoyed the anecdotes, and appreciated the approachable nature of the content. If the author’s intention was to spread useful foundational knowledge about the topic of stem-cell research by making it accessible to laypeople—who likely wouldn’t understand scientific jargon—then he has done so remarkably well. In addition, the book is well edited, easy to read, and consistently engaging.
There were a few elements that I thought could be improved, but they didn’t detract from the quality of the book significantly enough to warrant a lower rating. I thought that, since Mr. Reed decided to make an ethical case for fetal stem cell research, he could have presented the opposing side’s reasoning a bit more fully. His position is certainly a defensible one, and he made his case well, but I felt like he was oversimplifying the issue and presenting it as if anyone who disagrees with him is simply shallow in their thinking and ignoring the obvious reality.
Besides that, I sometimes didn’t really understand why he spent as much time as he did talking about specific scientists and government programs. This emphasis didn’t always seem relevant. But, then again, my goal (as a non-resident of California) was simply to take away some interesting information about the purpose of stem-cell research. It’s definitely possible that readers in closer proximity to and with voting power concerning the issues presented would be far more interested in these details.
It is worth noting that there are a few things that this book decidedly is not. One, it isn’t a scientific or academic text, and you’re not going to learn anything super technical herein, so if that’s what you’re looking for then give it a pass. Secondly, all the stories are very short and sweet, and you don’t really get to know the subjects of the treatments that are being tested out and studied. So, I wouldn’t call it an endearing book. There’s just not really an overarching narrative to be emotionally involved with, so this book isn’t going to be a win for people who are looking for a good story.
All that said, I would highly recommend this book to people who have heard of stem-cell research and maybe don’t know exactly what it means or what its usefulness is. I knew very little about it before reading this book, and I feel like this book gives its reader a really useful starting point for getting familiar with the topic and learning more. In addition, the book seems particularly geared towards Californians who would be interested in taking political action in favor of stem-cell research if they knew where to start, so if you fit that bill then absolutely give this book a read.
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