A solid study of an outlaw and his image.



One year in the life of legendary criminal John Dillinger.

With this new biography of the Depression-era bank robber, Gorn (History/Brown Univ.; Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, 2001, etc.) demonstrates that the American popular imagination never seems to tire of Dillinger and his legend. Since his death at the hands of federal agents on July 22, 1934, that legend has only grown. He has been the subject of popular fiction and nonfiction for years, as well as numerous films, including the upcoming Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger. Gorn specifically addresses the phenomenon of Dillinger’s glamorous image and searches for an explanation of American society’s enduring fascination with outlaws. The author focuses on a one-year period in 1933 and ’34, when Dillinger and his gang robbed more than a dozen banks across the country. In the process, more than a dozen policemen, civilians, and gang members were killed, and reporters followed the gang’s exploits every step of the way. Though they were captured in January 1934, Dillinger managed to escape jail by—legend has it—carving a fake gun out of wood and brandishing it at the guards. Whether the wooden-gun story is true is still a point of contention—and Gorn doesn’t seek to solve the mystery—but newspapers reported it as real and began to write about Dillinger as a “calm, humorously cynical bandit” and “a carefree devil with many likable traits.” During the Depression, when thousands of people lost their homes to bank foreclosures, Dillinger became a Robin Hood–style hero to many—he took from the rich, even if he didn’t give to the poor. “The violence notwithstanding,” writes Gorn, “there was something deeply appealing about [him], his nerves, his coolness, his élan.” The author also makes a strong case that Dillinger’s favorable publicity galvanized federal agents’ efforts to bring him down.

A solid study of an outlaw and his image.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-19-530483-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


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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