Snake Oil And Other Preoccupations, by John Diamond. Vintage, 2001, $29.95
I recently reviewed for NZ Skeptic this author’s previous book (C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too), which described his experiences of his throat cancer and its treatment. That was written when he was still unsure whether it had been cured, and I admitted to moist eyes on reading of the gruelling time he had.
The success of that book, and his steadfast convictions about cancer treatments, led him to write another book, which was to be “an uncomplimentary look at the world of complementary medicine”. Unfortunately the cancer was not cured, and, in the middle of writing chapter six, he was taken to hospital for the last time. His brother-in-law describes how, the day after his death, they found his computer still switched on, the last words he had typed were “Let me explain why”. That he was never to do so brought on in your reviewer another attack of unmanliness.
Wisely, and luckily for the many who appreciate Diamond’s views and style, his executors have published the unfinished material, 82 pages, and filled out the book with a varied selection of his weekly columns in several magazines. Of the 60 or so of these, almost half are connected to the “Snake Oil” theme, and widen the coverage of “C”. Read about the role of the tongue in swallowing (you never miss it until you haven’t got it), and the problem of replying to a hearty friend’s enquiry after your health (“Oh, fine thanks…..well,actually, no. I’ve got cancer”).
The other items are light-hearted, entertaining pieces, remarkably so considering the pain he was in during the writing. Try “Does my bottom look too big?” (wise advice for those outside, and inside, the changing rooms in ladies’ dress shops). Diamond (of Jewish birth) confirms the view that Jewish jokes are invented by Jews; “The week before you know when”, is a spoof “The night before Christmas” bemoaning the way Jews are missing the commercial opportunities.
Diamond’s skill with words is matched by the Introduction contributed by Dawkins, another master. The light-hearted but erudite tone of his writing is the more remarkable considering what he was enduring. All who read and admired the earlier book will be both moved and amused by this one.