Ebooks: From self-help for cancer sufferers to the magic of reality

New titles from Sophie Sabbage, Chris Kyle, Jim Dwyer and Richard Dawkins

 Richard Dawkins: “Stories are fun, but to claim a supernatural explanation of something is not to explain it at all.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Richard Dawkins: “Stories are fun, but to claim a supernatural explanation of something is not to explain it at all.” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The bestselling ebook on Amazon for the past few months has been Sophie Sabbage’s self-published self-help memoir The Cancer Whisperer: How to Let Cancer Heal (£1.99). Sabbage was 48 when she was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer. Faced with the reality of terminal illness, she decided to confront the culture of silence surrounding cancer.

The book charts her transformation of “the gloomy predictions of my inexorable ending” that doctors and healthcare workers remind her of daily to a more positive prognosis, and ultimately, wellness. “I was willing to hand over the outcome to God, but not to my doctors or statistics,” she writes at the beginning of her journey. “To whatever extent was possible, I wanted to write my own story and I was damned if I was going to inhabit theirs.”

Sabbage charts the physical aspects of her illness with unsparing precision, and she shares the research that she has done into alternative and conventional treatments, details of the dietary changes she has made and other resources she has used to help her preserve her “fierce, feisty, and indomitable sense of self”.

“The biggest win is not surviving cancer,” she tells readers looking for enlightenment. “The bigger win is in preserving my personhood.” There is another win for Sabbage, however: The Cancer Whisperer has been such a huge success that it will be printed in a mass-market paperback edition in December.

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US History (ios only, €7.99) is a different sort of memoir. The story will be familiar to many from Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film of the same name, which was released earlier this year.

Indeed, the enhanced ebook edition was conceived to capitalise on the interest that the film would bring to the book, which documents the experiences of Chris Kyle, who killed more than 150 suspected terrorists in Iraq during his deployment there with the US Army.

Admirably, the enhanced edition doesn’t draw too much on the film for supplying extra materials. Instead, videos concentrate on the testimony of Kyle’s wife and the strain placed by military life on their marriage. The story of Kyle’s time in Iraq is dramatic and disturbing – never more so than when he justifies his kills – but it is also genuinely gripping. There are also detailed photographs and technical specs of a SEAL’s military equipment, including Kyle’s various rifles; something for the weapons’ enthusiast rather than the ordinary reader, perhaps.

Kyle portrays himself as American Everyman, and this is ironically reinforced by the reader’s knowledge of his death in 2013, at the hands of an unstable army cadet. America’s contemporary foreign policy and gun laws have the potential to create psychopaths as well as heroes.

False Conviction: Innocence, Guilt and Science by Jim Dwyer (ios only, €9.99) is another particularly American story. Developed by Touch Press and the Innocence Project, this interactive e-book examines the inconsistencies in forensic science that led to several famous and some lesser-known case studies of wrongful conviction in the United States.

The book is written by New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer, who uses his three decades of experience as a writer to collate a fascinating study of dozens of instances of the miscarriage of justice, such as the jailing of John Jerome White, an African American who spent 27 years in prison for the rape of Betty McLane, while the real attacker, standing one man away from him in the line-up, was dismissed by both the police and the victim.

Dwyer is clear in his interpretation of events, but he also uses primary documents such as court transcripts, expert witness testimony and scientific analysis to demonstrate how we can often use fact to bolster rather than question our assumptions.

The interactive features are fun to use, though the results of human error they present you with are disquieting. Readers are asked to identify perpetrators from mugshots, to spot the differences in a variety of scenarios, to choose the right representation from a selection of almost identical objects, to test their memory of events after watching CCTV footage of an office break-in: in all cases my own powers of observation were found wanting.

These popular psychology tests are backed by more detailed scientific analysis, but False Conviction remains a light read rather than a weighty tome, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in television shows like the CSI series.

If you remain unconvinced by the science of False Conviction, it is unlikely that Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True will leave you with many unanswered questions, unless you look to religion rather than science to explain the world. Indeed, this App for the i-Pad (€6.99) begins with that proviso. “Stories are fun,” the well-known scientist and atheist writes in the introduction, but “to claim a supernatural explanation of something is not to explain it at all.”

The Magic of Reality deflates many of the stories that have been used for centuries to explain natural phenomenon by providing concrete scientific explanations in their stead. Twelve key questions structure the book, including: What is reality? What is magic? Who was the first man? Why are there so many different kinds of animals? Most of the ideas are explored in a fashion that is appropriate for all levels of curiosity and the language used is also accessible. The interactive elements will certainly appeal to younger readers.

Prisms are explained by allowing you to create your own rainbows, gravity is demonstrated through a virtual explosion from Newton’s cannon, and prehistoric genealogy is elucidated through a nifty time-travel function.

Dave McKean’s illustrations, many of which are 3-D enabled, are also noteworthy, bringing an added popular graphic flourish to the various creatures and natural features explored in the book. The audio-visual material is presented by Dawkins himself, providing plenty of stimulation, or provocation, depending on which side of the scientific spectrum you sit on.

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