An American life considered with art and understanding in a major work of biography. (40 photos in text)

IN BLACK AND WHITE

THE LIFE OF SAMMY DAVIS, JR.

Robust update and emendation of the entertainer’s well-known autobiography.

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925–90) wasn’t black inside, wasn’t white outside, writes Haygood (The Haygoods of Columbus, 1997, etc.). He was simply a performer. He never spent a day in a classroom. Soon after Sammy learned to walk, he learned to work. Under the aegis of his father and adoptive uncle, veteran vaudeville hoofers, he mastered flash dancing and the soft shoe. The hardscrabble life was exhausting and exhilarating, but the prodigy of “The Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis Jr.” had energy to burn. He danced, sang, played various instruments, and did spot-on mimicry. Life on the road in the biz wasn’t life on the streets or the ghetto. Sammy’s buddies were Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis, Jeff Chandler, and Eddie Cantor (without blackface) as well as the Step Brothers and the Nicholas Brothers. Color meant little until a quick stint in the Army brought a new awareness that he was not white, as many who knew him thought he wanted to be. Though he had previously married a black showgirl at the strong behest of the Mob, he preferred white women, especially blonds like Kim Novak and May Britt, whom he married. Throughout, he had a complex relationship with generous, arrogant Frank Sinatra. Sammy’s insatiable need for approval brought him to Richard Nixon, but he was no handkerchief-head, asserted friends like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier (fighting popular black opinion). Haygood uses “Negro” consistently until the time in his narrative when “black” becomes favored as the story advances from Bill Robinson and Marcus Garvey past the Rat Pack to porn stars at the Davis Hollywood home. The movies, the clubs, the Broadway shows, the spending, the devastating results of bad driving, and the demons are all covered perceptively.

An American life considered with art and understanding in a major work of biography. (40 photos in text)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-40354-X

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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