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HOGS WILD

SELECTED REPORTING PIECES

Pieces that show Frazier’s ranging curiosity, lucent style, and capacious heart.

The veteran humorist and reporter for the New Yorker presents a collection of pieces that record his pursuits of wild hogs, hermit crabs, Asian carp, a Styrofoam substitute, and numerous other quarry.

Most of these pieces date from the previous decade and are arranged in an order that reflects not so much chronology as rhythm (shorter ones are sprinkled in among the longer), though some do relate more or less thematically to those surrounding. A piece on beach art, for example, precedes one on Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the beaches and inland territory of Staten Island. Frazier (The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days, 2012, etc.), who recently wrote about his journeys in a famously remote land (Travels in Siberia, 2010), ranges here over terrain more familiar to him—Manhattan and environs—although he does venture elsewhere, including Arizona and the Netherlands. In pieces previously published (and now slightly revised) in the New Yorker and other publications, the author gives readers a clear look at his research methods, fearlessness, vast curiosity, clear style, and unusual ability to get away with telling us things that would sound boring and unnecessary from a lesser writer—for instance, the routes and modes of transportation he took to arrive at relevant sites. His approach will remind readers of his great New Yorker colleague John McPhee: he seeks out the quirky and interesting people involved in his story (e.g., others who, like him, were seeking the place in Death Valley where Charles Manson was captured), gives us rich background derived from his deep reading of his subject (like an antidote to heroin overdoses), offers interviews with the principals in his cases (the family in New Jersey who thought a meteorite had punctured their bathroom ceiling), and so on. His celebrated humor glows rather than erupts in these more expository pieces.

Pieces that show Frazier’s ranging curiosity, lucent style, and capacious heart.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-29852-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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