Thoreau has inspired so many esteemed biographies that it's difficult to claim any new one as definitive. However, Walls...

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU

A LIFE

A superbly researched and written literary portrait that broadens our understanding of the great American writer and pre-eminent naturalist who has too long been regarded as a self-righteous scold.

“A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov. In Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), this formulation finds its fullest expression, and that’s only part of the story. Besides being a great prose stylist and the spiritual father of environmentalism, he was also the author of “Civil Disobedience,” which has served as a rallying cry for nonviolent protests ever since. For all that, he's hardly a beloved figure; he's the hermit of Walden Pond, the Concord solipsist sneering at the lesser mortals who lack his independence. In this magnificent new biography, Walls (English/Univ. of Notre Dame; The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America, 2009, etc.) effectively humanizes her subject. The man who will always be regarded by some as the great prig of American literature was deeply involved in 19th-century life. He worked every day, and not just as a relentless writer; he made his living as a handyman, carpenter, expert surveyor, and businessman who helped run his family’s pencil-manufacturing company. His friendships, most notably with Ralph Waldo Emerson and others in the transcendentalist movement, were tumultuous but enduring. He was a popular lecturer and an anti-slavery activist. He was also the literary artist who spent nearly a decade trying to describe a year on Walden Pond. The Thoreau on the pages of Walden, writes Walls, “is not the author who so carefully staged the book, but the book’s protagonist, who, in the course of the year and a day, is utterly changed by the experience.”

Thoreau has inspired so many esteemed biographies that it's difficult to claim any new one as definitive. However, Walls delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular American figure.

Pub Date: July 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-226-34469-0

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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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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