An astute introduction to the life of music’s most Promethean composer, an embodied storm, a human cymbal crash.

BEETHOVEN

THE UNIVERSAL COMPOSER

Supreme talent facilitated Beethoven’s staggering achievement, but it was his genius for transforming his peculiar torment into art that ensured masterpieces.

A Jeckyll-and-Hyde of the sacred and profane, Beethoven bellows the angelic “Ode to Joy” of his Ninth Symphony while kicking the chamber pot parked under his piano. He derides his chief patron, “Lobkowitz is a donkey!” and gushes, in love letters, over his “Immortal Beloved,” a friend’s wife. He idolizes, then demonizes, Napoleon (the Beethoven of politics), and steals his dead brother’s son to raise as his pet. By now, of course, the man has become pure myth: the Nietzschean shadow over A Clockwork Orange and the house brand of classical radio. Morris (Theodore Rex, 2002, etc.) carefully refreshes the story. An accomplished pianist, he’s especially good at technical analysis. But the tale is ultimately one of personal crises provoking aesthetic breakthroughs: Beethoven avenging himself for his father’s knuckle-rapping keyboard tutelage by becoming one of history’s greatest pianists; repairing a heart broken by penning the “Moonlight” sonata; overcoming his mathematical illiteracy to cannily bargain for commissions; listening more deeply to his muse while deafness descends. Beethoven’s signature curses, Morris holds, were two: loneliness and sickness. And certainly his headaches, rheumatism, ulcerative colitis and speculative retroactive diagnoses of psychosis and Lupus Erythematosus confirm that the five-foot-six titan suffered greatly. Struggling for transcendence, then, meant not only the identification with Eastern philosophy that Morris points out, but Beethoven’s commitment to the rapture of music. In the end, character is destiny, the author argues: Tremendous pain yields tremendous gain.

An astute introduction to the life of music’s most Promethean composer, an embodied storm, a human cymbal crash.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-075974-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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