Well-conceived and sharply drawn, a thinking fan’s biography.

SANDY KOUFAX

A LEFTY’S LEGACY

Taut biography of the Dodger great’s playing years: baseball savvy and as far from tall-tale–telling as former Washington Post sportswriter Leavy (Squeeze Play, not reviewed) can get.

Koufax lent himself only incidentally to this work—to verify stories and allow the author access to his friends and family—but Leavy has produced what appears to be a very convincing portrait. She concentrates on the player’s six last, mind-blowing years, when his fastball and curve ruled. His plays on the mound are adeptly recorded—including, as interspersed chapters, his perfect game, told with consummate skill and containing the only hint of hyperbole here: “the ball headed toward home like an eighteen wheeler appearing down the highway out of a mirage.” But it’s a sense of Koufax’s character that Leavy most wishes to convey. Never one for promiscuous self-promotion, Koufax has been shoehorned into the recluse category; because he is reserved and Jewish, he was typecast as “moody, aloof, curt, intellectual, different.” Yes, he wouldn’t pitch the opening game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, an act with profound cultural impact, and yes, he liked to read, a positive egghead by sporting standards, though he also says: “I may have read Huxley once in my life, but if I did, frankly, I don’t remember.” His 1963 self-profile is true to form: “a normal twenty-seven-year-old bachelor who happens to be of the Jewish faith. . . . I like to read a book and listen to music and I’d like to meet the girl I’d want to marry.” But Leavy reveals also a man of dignity, honesty, and courtesy, not to mention his having that shaman’s touch with a baseball. He is, simply, a standard: “In virtually every way that matters, ethically and economically, medically and journalistically, he offers a way to measure where we’ve been, what we’ve come to, what we’ve lost.”

Well-conceived and sharply drawn, a thinking fan’s biography.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-019533-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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