A balanced, nuanced, warts-and-all portrait.

LAST LION

THE FALL AND RISE OF TED KENNEDY

A respectful but not stuffy portrait of Edward Kennedy, the playboy of legendary appetites turned senior statesman.

Upon learning last spring that Kennedy had been stricken with cancer, John McCain lauded him as “the last lion of the Senate,” adding that “he remains the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results.” By this account, assembled by Canellos and a team of seasoned reporters from the Boston Globe, McCain’s encomium seems right on the mark. Kennedy has been notable in pushing through a wide variety of laws and programs, particularly ones that concern health, education and workers’ rights. It was not always that way. The writers portray the early Kennedy—the last of four brothers and nine children, and often the target of withering criticism—as just shy of being a wastrel, ejected from Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam and fond of the night life. A stint as an enlisted man in the Army—during which his father pulled strings to keep him from the battle lines in Korea—helped turn him around, but he still got arrested for reckless driving even as he was preparing to serve as his brother Jack’s campaign manager. Thrust into the family trade, Kennedy “walloped his Republican opponent, grabbing three-quarters of the vote” in the 1964 Senate race, and he slowly began to build a résumé as a serious, studious politician—a reputation blunted but not squashed by scandals such as Chappaquiddick. Most striking about this sturdy account is Kennedy’s well-practiced habit of crossing the aisle to disarm his Republican opponents with a combination of charm and arm-twisting. One unlikely ally was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who came to Congress with a specific agenda of fighting Kennedy on every front. Another was President George W. Bush, whom Kennedy aided in pushing through the No Child Left Behind legislation—though he later “blamed Bush for reneging on his side of the bargain.”

A balanced, nuanced, warts-and-all portrait.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3817-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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