One follows this engrossing adventure feeling as eager as the travelers to see what's around the next bend in the river, on...

THE SUN IS A COMPASS

A 4,000-MILE JOURNEY INTO THE ALASKAN WILDS

A research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center recounts a stirring wilderness adventure set against the background of a young woman juggling family, career, and a passion for rough country.

From the Pacific rainforests of Washington state to a remote corner of the Alaskan Arctic, it was an often grueling, 4,000-mile journey by foot, skis, raft, and canoe that few would have attempted, even such experienced wilderness travelers as debut author Van Hemert and her husband, Pat. In 2012, the author, who had begun to question her devotion to science, and Pat, a home builder driven by wanderlust, embarked on an expedition that would succeed or fail on human power alone—no roads, no trails, no motors—and test the limits of their endurance on some of the harshest and most unforgiving terrain in the world. Van Hemert chronicles their journey in sharp, sometimes-harrowing detail, though not so minutely that the narrative bogs down in the exigencies of living in the wild. While she discusses their various triumphs and travails, the author fully expresses the wonder of what they saw and experienced, who they met along the way, the microcultures they encountered, and how the journey brought her back to a love of scientific inquiry (if not to a love of the laboratory). After a brief in-progress report, she opens with the couple's personal histories and motivations for undertaking the trip. What might have been perfunctory actually adds depth. For all the readers’ vicarious thrills and Van Hemert’s admirable writing, it is the author’s candor regarding her doubts and her appealing vulnerability that make this memoir so resonant.

One follows this engrossing adventure feeling as eager as the travelers to see what's around the next bend in the river, on the next island, across the next coastal passage, or over the next mountain pass.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41442-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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