An informative and occasionally enlightening survey of American messianic movements, but it will likely have limited appeal...

AMERICAN MESSIAHS

FALSE PROPHETS OF A DAMNED NATION

A detailed account of messianic movements in America.

On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 people died at Jonestown, Guyana, a remote settlement of the Peoples Temple cult led by self-styled messiah Jim Jones. This mass murder-suicide, the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until 9/11, serves as a gruesome denouement in this new study, in which independent scholar Morris analyzes a largely forgotten chapter in American history. From Jones to Mother Ann Lee to “Walla Walla Jesus,” charismatic would-be prophets have established quasi-communist settlements as correctives to the racism, misogyny, rampant individualism, and capitalist greed they believed have characterized American society. To further foster this defiance of mainstream America, most of the communities also shared an aversion to the nuclear family, with celibacy frequently promoted “as a rejection of marriage, childbearing, and traditional kinship structures.” Morris is at his best when he discusses the man who arguably embodied these tenets more than anyone else: Father Divine (c. 1876-1965), a black spiritual leader and civil rights advocate. Father Divine was an important and influential figure in his day, yet his controversial views on family—followers were expected to change their names and leave behind wives, husbands, and children once they joined his movement—ensured his virtual erasure from the nation’s collective memory. Unfortunately, the rest of the chapters are somewhat dry, scholarly, and jargon-laden. Moreover, the brevity of many of the chapters impedes the narrative flow, and the brief epilogue would benefit from more information on post-Jonestown cults (David Koresh and the Branch Davidians receive only one paragraph). Ultimately, the book should serve as a useful reference for students of messianic movements and the history of American religion in general, but nonscholarly readers may lose interest at some point in the narrative.

An informative and occasionally enlightening survey of American messianic movements, but it will likely have limited appeal among general readers.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-213-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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