Raw and heartfelt—though uneven—Peck’s hybrid memoir contributes to that goal.



Witness to a transformative decade in gay history.

By the time novelist and critic Peck (The Garden of Lost and Found, 2012, etc.) came out in 1987, a potent drug cocktail had emerged that controlled the course of HIV, lessening its likelihood to lead to full-blown AIDS and certain death. He recounts the effect of that discovery on gay culture, on America’s attitudes toward homosexuality and on his own experiences. Woven through the book are references to serial killers of gay men, about whom Peck reported early in his career. Cobbled together from revised essays and articles, the memoir sometimes lapses into repetition and shows its seams. The author, who has honed a reputation for scathing critiques, offers a withering indictment of Andrew Sullivan, whose revisionist gay history demonized pre-AIDS gay culture “as a nonstop party” that he believed would be reincited by the development of combination therapy. Peck also dismisses some queer theorists whose “performative modalities…often seemed like experiments in egotism and anomie.” He effusively praises Larry Kramer, Michael Cunningham and Tony Kushner, whose Angels in America (2003) contributed to making gay activists “more visible, more capable of influencing the things said about us on a national level.” As a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power when he was in his early 20s, Peck stood proudly among those activists, attending meetings and marches, helping out with mundane office work, preparing clean needles for addicts, and reading everything he could find written by a gay man, lesbian or transgendered person. Literature, he writes, “happened to get better in response to AIDS, at least for a while,” since it reflected the visceral rage and despair of the time. He is despondent, though, about a tendency to normalize and distance AIDS. Instead, he calls for narratives that force readers “to find the existence of the epidemic unbearable.”

Raw and heartfelt—though uneven—Peck’s hybrid memoir contributes to that goal.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61695-441-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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