A thoughtful, well-written memorial to an important but overlooked figure in modern Jewish letters—and a real treat for...

THE PATRON

A LIFE OF SALMAN SCHOCKEN, 1877-1959

A well-rendered life of the philanthropist, activist, autodidact, and publisher who acted as an important gatekeeper and advocate of European Jewish culture through much of the last century.

Now an “infrequent footnote in scholarly monographs dealing with the history of German Jews,” as David (Gershom Scholem: A Life in Letters, not reviewed) puts it, Salman Schocken (1877–1959) was a barely educated Ostjuden, or Eastern Jew, from Poland who made his way westward, fell under the spell of Nietzsche and other German writers and thinkers, and evolved into a “mystical merchant” (the phrase is Gershom Scholem’s) who built a small empire of department stores and other businesses while reading just about every book ever written. This was just the sort of career trajectory that some German Jews—and, of course, many Germans—feared, and Schocken battled plenty of resentments and prejudices as he earned his fortune, all of which may have helped push him into the Zionist camp early on. Schocken—who altered his name to the modern, businesslike “S. Schocken Jr.” about the time he established himself in Berlin—had a mistrust for organized politics and society, but he became a stalwart of Zionist culture-building. Working with the likes of Scholem, Martin Buber, S.Y. Agnon, Max Brod (and through him Franz Kafka), and other writers, Schocken became a publisher and patron; in him, in David’s words, “the Jewish renaissance found its Medici.” A bibliophile who considered his 30,000-volume library to be his autobiography, Schocken was forced out of Germany after Hitler’s rise to power, though he managed to move much of his inventory to Palestine after hard bargaining with the Nazi authorities. A modern nomad, he wandered between Jerusalem and New York (where he founded the publishing company that bears his name today), adding Switzerland, Italy, and other European ports of call after the war, and contributing to that renaissance for the rest of his life, as his descendants continue to do today.

A thoughtful, well-written memorial to an important but overlooked figure in modern Jewish letters—and a real treat for bibliophiles.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8050-6630-6

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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

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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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