Despite its subtitle, this uneven book is less a self-help manual than a recommendation to remove one’s sexual boundaries,...


Free Love and The Sexual Revolution


In this debut memoir, the co-founder of a famous clothing-optional resort and, later, of a sanctuary for wild cats, describes her experiences.

Sandstone Retreat—officially, the Sandstone Foundation for Community Systems Research—was founded in 1969 by John Williamson, “an aerospace engineer turned free-love visionary,” and his wife, Barbara, the author of this book, who’d been a successful life insurance salesperson. The 15-acre California estate offered “a sensual playground for adults,” she says, and was part of “a radical social experiment….[in] total sexual freedom, where sexual possessiveness and jealousy did not exist.” The author describes how she and her husband found, renovated, and decorated the rooms (velvet upholstery, shag carpeting), as well as how the cooperative retreat/commune was run, with the Williamsons charging membership fees and employing a small, live-in staff. For the author, who says she grew up in an emotionally cold, rejecting household, Sandstone was about self-knowledge, intimacy, and happiness. She says that she learned to deal with sexual jealousy (although she notes that the first time John had sex with another woman, she cried all night) and to delight in her own bisexuality. Various media outlets reported on the retreat, which was featured in a 1975 documentary, although the Williamsons sold it in 1973. They eventually settled in Nevada, where they founded Tiger Touch, a nonprofit exotic-feline sanctuary; John Williamson died in 2013. The author writes that she “saw more naked stars [at Sandstone] than any other woman of that era!,” but she rarely shares explicit gossip, which may disappoint some readers. She presents the place as an unalloyed Eden but, childless herself, doesn’t discuss questions such as how its model of free, open sexuality could possibly work for families with children, or how Sandstone would have coped with HIV and AIDS. The author also doesn’t address those who might have sought sexual liberation but lacked the money and/or good looks to fit in at a place like Sandstone. She also writes of obtaining her Siberian lynx from an exotic-cat breeder, without mentioning that many animal welfare organizations frown on this practice. Still, the author does a good job of communicating the joyous, affectionate flavor of the era’s approach to sexual liberation, making an interesting contrast to the prurience of contemporary observers, such as Gay Talese.

Despite its subtitle, this uneven book is less a self-help manual than a recommendation to remove one’s sexual boundaries, with good results guaranteed. 

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5085-4355-8

Page Count: 202

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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