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Twists and turns that rival a well-plotted detective story, complete with a surprise ending.

A provocative meditation on the implications of scientific theories about genetic determinism.

Beginning with the National Book Award–winning Slaves in the Family (1998), Ball has written four books (Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love, 2004, etc.) centered in Charleston, S.C., the home base of his father’s family. In his latest, he tries to uncover the truth about his origins with the help of cutting-edge genetic science. He questions whether the carefully preserved records of Ball family genealogy tell the whole truth. When he accidentally discovers nine small packets of hair in the secret drawer of a family heirloom that has recently come into his possession, he decides to submit samples for genetic analysis, along with his own hair and that of two cousins. The hair packets were apparently collected as treasured mementos over a 175-year period ending in the 1850s. Ball takes them to several forensic laboratories, which mainly deal with crime-scene evidence but are also equipped to look at “ancient” hair. Much of the book describes the methodology employed by these labs. Ball also delves into the science of genetics, which adds another dimension to the tale. He is most interested in probing his racial history, and the results he receives are at first glance surprising. This leads him to consult anthropologists who study population migrations by identifying variations in the genotype of people of Asian, African and European descent. His quest to discover more about the origins of his family leads the author to examine deeper questions about the extent to which personal identity may or may not be determined genetically. He wonders whether our reliance on science is perhaps too uncritical.

Twists and turns that rival a well-plotted detective story, complete with a surprise ending.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-6658-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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