BEHIND BLUE EYES

THE LIFE OF PETE TOWNSHEND

Riddled with inconsistencies, this overlong and occasionally self-serving biography of the Mod rock satyr offers little about its subject that fans don't already know. Founding member and driving force behind the Who, rock 'n' roll Boswell of his ``G-G-G-Generation,'' creator of Tommy (and of a new form of musical excess, the ``rock opera''), and possessor of one of the most prolific appetites (even by rocker standards) for booze, drugs, and the high life, Pete Townshend has long since cemented his legend as one of the giants of contemporary rock. Beginning with the Who's 1965 anthemic ``My Generation'' (remembered for its defiant refrain, ``Hope I die before I get old''), Townshend's career is perhaps best characterized by an uncompromising (some would say self-destructive) approach to both music and life. Giuliano (Blackbird: The Life and Times of Paul McCartney, 1991, etc.) has collected an extraordinary number of details about Townshend's profoundly dysfunctional childhood; his long-standing rivalry with fellow Who member, vocalist Roger Daltrey; his addiction to heroin; his search for religious meaning and his (occasionally bizarre) devotion to the silent Indian mystic Meher Baba; his erratic career after the Who stopped touring; his charitable work; his hearing loss; and the relatively recent revelation of his bisexuality. Less conspicuous, however, is the narrative focus that might make sense of all the facts. Giuliano seems at times flummoxed by his mercurial subject, who offers contradictory interpretations of his own work, including several different explanations for the ``Hope I die'' line. The author variously describes Townshend as an effete, middle-class artist and, seemingly without any recognition of the contradiction, as a gritty ``working-class rocker from West London.'' The book seems equally incapable of suggesting what influence Townshend's sexuality has had on his music or what it tells us about the pattern of his life. A confused, contradictory, and unrevealing work. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94052-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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