A rich and rewarding portrait of an irreplaceable genius.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

JONATHAN SWIFT

HIS LIFE AND HIS WORLD

A feisty, first-class life of the sage and scourge of English Literature.

Besides being a great essayist, satirist, novelist and poet, Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was a very public man: a social-climbing Anglican minister, a friend to Alexander Pope, a competitor of Daniel Defoe and Laurence Sterne, a stalwart nationalist of Ireland—where he would be consigned to live—and a man whose shifting political allegiances forced him to publish his fiercest critiques anonymously (if only just barely). He masked himself in other ways, as well, leaving behind enough private contradictions and obscurities to keep biographers busy to this day. Damrosch (Literature/Harvard Univ.; Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, 2010, etc.) is bent on both correcting the record and adding to it, creating a fresh and vivid life even as he wrestles with previous biographers—namely Irvin Ehrenpreis—along the way. Damrosch explores the mystery of Swift’s parentage as well as his concealed Betty-and-Veronica relationships, one with the loving and devoted “Stella” (Hester Johnson)—whom he may have secretly married and who is buried next to him—and one with the temptress “Vanessa” (Esther Vanhomrigh). Damrosch also amply scrutinizes Swift’s inner life: Was this preacher who absolutely insisted on churchly tithes even a true believer? Was Gulliver’s Travels misanthropic or, as Methodist founder John Wesley suggested, an honest examination of mankind at its worst? Damrosch gets close to Swift as both a talented author and a man, detailing his frustrations, habits and multiple physical torments from deafness, vertigo and a variety of odd ailments. (“The spots increased every day and had little pimples, which are now grown white and full of corruption, though small…I cannot be sick like other people," he wrote, "but always something out of the common way.") This is the kind of biography where you come to feel you know the subject personally.

A rich and rewarding portrait of an irreplaceable genius.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-300-16499-2

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more