Pox is free of judgment, but the reader can’t help but feel that safe sex never seemed a better idea. (Illustrations)

POX

GENIUS, MADNESS, AND THE MYSTERIES OF SYPHILIS

The Great Pox, commonly known as the clap, is given a clinical but—how could it be otherwise?—morbidly fascinating historical profile by independent scholar Hayden, who proceeds to do some medical detective work in identifying famous people who may have carried the spirochete to their graves.

The nasty little parasite entered the history books, Hayden conjectures (with evidence), when Columbus returned from the New World and launched the European syphilis epidemic of 1493. (The lepers thought the syphilitics smelled so bad they wouldn’t have them in their neighborhoods.) Left untreated, as it essentially was until penicillin, syphilis is a chronic, inflammatory, relapsing disease that goes into hiding throughout the body—brain, eyes, temporal arteries—after the initial sores disappear. It then reasserts itself by delivering severe headaches and gastrointestinal pains, blindness and deafness, paralysis, and insanity, yet sometimes also ecstasy and fierce creativity. Hayden traces attempts to counteract the disease—which, since methods included dousing with mercury, arsenic, and bismuth, were equally terrible (and ineffective)—in a voice both serious and wonderfully understated: one of the “warning signs” of tertiary syphilis, she explains, is the sensation of being serenaded by angels. After the cultural and medical groundwork has been laid, Hayden asks “delicate questions” about a number of historical figures. She examines the possibility that Beethoven and van Gogh were victims—possible cases that are hotly contested. It would be a miracle if Flaubert didn't have syphilis, and in Oscar Wilde’s case, he said and did so many bizarre things that’s it’s hard to judge. Hayden presents the facts and lets the readers decide whether Nietzsche, Baronness Blixen, Schubert, Baudelaire, and Hitler may have been candidates.

Pox is free of judgment, but the reader can’t help but feel that safe sex never seemed a better idea. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-465-02881-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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