KEATS

Whether illuminating Keats's famous lines or unearthing long-occluded facts about the most ill-starred of English Romantic poets, this superb biographical study displays an unusually sensitive erudition. Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821, at age 25, leaving behind only a few slim volumes' worth of poems. In his lifetime Keats was roundly mocked by critics—so much so that many of his contemporaries imagined him to have died of shame. These facts have given rise to an image of him as a sickly dreamer, ``half in love,'' as one of his celebrated odes puts it, ``with easeful death.'' It is this image of Keats that Motion (Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, 1993) tries to put to rest. Motion highlights the tough side of Keats's character, introducing us to the child prone to brawling and fits of rage, and to the young man whose strenuous walking tour of Britain may have contributed to the breakdown of his health. This Keats was intensely engaged with society. He nursed first his mother, and then his brother Tom, as they died of consumption, and his mother's death inspired him to enter the medical profession and train as a surgeon. Motion argues convincingly that Keats saw his poetic vocation as consistent with this work, showing how his poems abound in expertly depicted bodies and often seem to have a therapeutic aim. Sometimes this desired effect would be on the body politic: Motion shows too how Keats's poems were informed by his radical politics—shaped in great part by his mentor, the radical journalist Leigh Hunt—and by his reactions to such crises in the reform movement as the Peterloo massacre. Himself a noted poet, Motion writes sprightly, striking prose: For instance, he describes Fanny Brawne, Keats's inamorata, as ``unformed, frisky, and quick-tongued: conventional in her tastes; vehement in her enjoyments.'' Far from burying Keats in a doorstop-biography tomb, Motion has embodied him in a book that is itself vehemently enjoyable. (b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-18100-4

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1997

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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