Knowingly and gloriously boastful, but not nearly as entertaining as Djerassi’s earlier memoir, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and...

THIS MAN’S PILL

REFLECTIONS ON THE 50TH BIRTHDAY OF THE PILL

A memoir of the birth control pill’s monumental impact on its creator’s life, as well as a capsule history of the Pill’s development—and a response to those who blame it for various current social woes.

Djerassi (Chemistry/Stanford), whose laboratory at Syntex in Mexico City synthesized the steroid that later became the first oral contraceptive, clarifies the contributions of numerous other scientists to the birth of the Pill, calling himself its mother, Massachusetts-based biologist Gregory Pincus its father, and Harvard endocrinologist John Rock its metaphorical obstetrician. Having settled questions about the Pill’s ancestry, the author turns to the issue of its impact. He looks at the Pill’s acceptance around the world and raises some interesting what-if-it-hadn’t-been-invented questions, but the heart of the matter is how the oral contraceptive changed Djerassi’s own life. It brought him out of the chemistry lab and turned him into a novelist, poet, playwright, and innovative educator; in addition, Syntex stock options made him a wealthy man, enabling him to become an art collector and patron of the arts. Writing two public policy articles on the Pill convinced him that politics, not science, would shape birth control’s future, and he consequently developed courses bridging science and the humanities at Stanford. What he refers to as “this softening of my scientific persona” led Djerassi to seek a wider public for his views, and he describes his subsequent literary career in loving detail, illustrating his account with examples from his work. An autobiographical poem serves as the book’s abstract (scientific papers have one, so why not this?), and the text is laden with excerpts from his poems, short stories, “science-in-fiction” novels (NO, 1998, etc.) and “science-in-theater” dramas. Djerassi clearly takes great pride in his accomplishments, not least the founding of a thriving artists’ colony near Palo Alto.

Knowingly and gloriously boastful, but not nearly as entertaining as Djerassi’s earlier memoir, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse (1992).

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-850872-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more