A witty, wise and mordantly wise-cracking memoir and examination of the American way of death.

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES

AND OTHER LESSONS FROM THE CREMATORY

A 20-something’s account of her life as a professional mortician.

Doughty's fascination with death began in childhood, but it wasn’t until she got to college that she dropped all pretenses of “normality and began to explore “all aspects of mortality” through her work in medieval history. Intellectual exposure to death and the human rituals associated with it eventually led to a decision to pursue a career as an undertaker. With an honesty that at times borders on unnerving, Doughty describes her experiences tending to dead people that, through her colorful characterizations, come to life on the page to become more than just anonymous stiffs. The author offers an intimate view of not just the mechanics of how corpses are treated and disposed, but also of the way Americans have come to treat both death and the dead. Throughout the last century, the rise of hospitals and displacement of homes as centers of life and death sanitized mortality while taking it out of public consciousness. “[T]he dying,” writes Doughty, “could undergo the indignities of death without offending the sensibilities of the living.” In the vein of Jessica Mitford, Doughty also casts a critical eye on the funeral industry and how it has attempted to “prettify” death for the public through cosmetic excesses like embalming. Yet unlike Mitford before her, Doughty reveals that what the public is ultimately getting cheated out of is not money, but a real and wholesome experience with death. For the author, the way forward to a healthier relationship with the end-of-life experience is to reclaim "the process of dying” by ending the ignorance and fear attached to it. Death is not the enemy of life but rather its much-maligned and misunderstood ally.

A witty, wise and mordantly wise-cracking memoir and examination of the American way of death.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24023-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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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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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