A rare psychobiography that does not strain the bounds of credulity.

“WE ARE LINCOLN MEN”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND HIS FRIENDS

“How could a man who had no friends be also a man who had nothing but friends?” asks Lincoln scholar Donald as he ponders the Great Emancipator’s essential loneliness.

After Lincoln was assassinated, writes Donald (American History & American Civilization/Harvard; Lincoln, 1995, etc.), plenty of people stepped forward to claim that they had been among his closest friends, and indeed Lincoln had a gift for making just about anyone who did not really know him feel right at home. Yet just about everyone who truly did know him sensed that Lincoln drew from a deep well of reserve and apartness; as his former law partner William Herndon, who shared an office with Lincoln for 16 years, remarked, “He was the most reticent and mostly secretive man that ever existed; he never opened his whole soul to any man; he never touched the history or quality of his own nature in the presence of his friends.” Several events formed and reinforced Lincoln’s solitude. Growing up on the frontier, with few agemates or playmates, Lincoln lacked intimate friends in his childhood; Donald writes that “boys who do not have chums often have difficulty in establishing close, warm friendships, and there is some evidence that such boys are more likely to suffer from depression in later years”—as Lincoln surely did. Add to this the loss of his mother at an early age and what the evidence suggests was an essentially loveless marriage to Mary Todd (whom Donald treats with some sympathy, but who nevertheless emerges as a basically disagreeable person), and Lincoln’s melancholic loneliness seemed all but foreordained. Yet he did have friends of a fashion, and he relied on six in particular—Joshua F. Speed, Herndon, Orville H. Browning, William H. Seward, John Hay, and John G. Nicolay—for advice, solace, and even love. (Of a kind: Donald disputes current theories that Lincoln was gay.) His interactions with those six, revealed through a blend of anecdote and hard-won documentary evidence, form the heart of Donald’s well-paced narrative.

A rare psychobiography that does not strain the bounds of credulity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-5468-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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