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POSSESSING GENIUS

THE BIZARRE ODYSSEY OF EINSTEIN’S BRAIN

If Michael Paterniti’s Driving Mr. Albert (2000) whetted the appetite, Possessing Genius provides a satisfying feast,...

Canadian medical journalist Abraham debuts with this well-detailed chronicle clarifying what happened to Einstein’s brain after his death.

Abraham conducted numerous interviews with Dr. Thomas Harvey, the Princeton Hospital pathologist who, in 1955, autopsied Einstein, removed and preserved his brain, and held on to it for some 40 years. Others whose recollections, articles, and letters form the basis for her account include Einstein’s executor, Otto Nathan, who for more than 30 years corresponded with Harvey, urging him to get on with the promised scientific research; and Einstein’s adopted granddaughter Evelyn, who hoped that the brain’s DNA might finally reveal whether she was actually the great man’s daughter. The author begins with a description of the brain’s prenatal development and includes enough about Einstein’s work to explain to anyone, no matter how scientifically challenged, why his name has become synonymous with “genius.” She describes his death, the autopsy, Harvey’s preservation techniques, and the pathologist’s inept efforts to interest qualified neurologists in examining the specimen for biological differences that would explain Einstein’s superior intelligence. Most never responded, and over the next 30 years, no scientific studies were published. A man clearly out of his depth, Harvey guarded his possession zealously and jealously, keeping it with him in jars of alcohol as he moved about the country. Finally, in 1984, he mailed four chunks to a researcher who reported in Experimental Neurology the presence of an unusually large number of glial cells in the left parietal lobe, and in 1996, he delivered 14 pieces to a Canadian researcher, whose subsequent report in The Lancet of the parietal lobes’ exceptional size and shape brought media attention to the researcher and to the brain’s quirky curator.

If Michael Paterniti’s Driving Mr. Albert (2000) whetted the appetite, Possessing Genius provides a satisfying feast, exploring the mystery of Harvey’s behavior, revealing the motives and roles of others in the strange saga, and illuminating changes in the field of brain research in the past half century.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28117-X

Page Count: 388

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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