A DESPERATE PASSION by Helen Caldicott


An Autobiography
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 A maverick's life, told with grace and good humor. Caldicott (Missile Envy, 1984), famed as an antinuclear activist and as a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility but less well known as an early researcher of cystic fibrosis, has much to tell. Born Helen Broinowski (``Nobody with Polish and Irish ancestry--as I have--has any right to expect a quiet, easy life'') into a family of Australian social progressives, she was one of the first female medical doctors to practice in her native country. She was also, early on, an outspoken critic and pacifist: ``I have taken on the establishment in society,'' she writes. ``I tend to have independent views which are often not popular initially, and I am impelled to speak the truth with little regard for the prevailing norms of society.'' That much is evident in her narrative of her early days as an activist, when she gave talks to Australian ladies' clubs and delivered the feminist gospel according to Germaine Greer--along with frank reminders that venereal disease is a possible outcome of sexual intimacy. Such remarks shocked her staid listeners. In later years, she has crusaded more widely for women's causes, for socialized medicine, for gun control (``the United States . . . is full of strange people carrying guns''), and, of course, for disarmament and the abolition of nuclear testing. One of the highlights of her book is an aside on how she bluffed Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, playing each off against the other, into endorsing her call for arms talks. Closely concerned with the big issues of our time, Caldicott does not often share the quotidian details of her own life, but when she does, it is with emotional power, as when she writes affectingly of the dissolution of her long marriage, and of her love for the natural world. A treat for Caldicott's many admirers. (16 pages photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03947-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1996


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