By Julie Salamon
384 pages. Penguin.
Reading Hospital (Penguin) feels a little like watching one of those speeding-gurney sequences on ER—fast paced, high stakes, and crowded with colorful characters all shouting at once. The difference is that Julie Salamon's book is more informative, more nuanced, and closer to reality—in this case, the reality of Brooklyn's Maimonides Medical Center, where the kosher kitchen is run by a Jamaican and where translators must deal with the fact that 67 languages are spoken by the patient population. The year that Salamon spent observing the daily routine at Maimonides gave her the access and time to become familiar with the doctors, nurses, patients, technicians, and administrators whose challenges, successes, and failures she details with sympathy and compassion. Using the inauguration of a state-of-the-art cancer center as a focal point, she documents the intense financial, political, and social stresses that influence every major and minor decision about the institution's future. She describes the complex balancing act required to meet the needs of a diverse community, and the moving struggles of doctors attempting to comfort and heal across deep cultural divides. Ultimately, Hospital is immensely heartening. If there's hope for our overburdened healthcare system, Salamon's book suggests, we can thank the decent, thoughtful men and women laboring overtime to improve the quality of life—and death—in our gloriously lumpy American melting pot.