Comprehensive and fair, though a little more warmth toward Parsons would have made the book more engaging.

GODDESS OF ANARCHY

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LUCY PARSONS, AMERICAN RADICAL

Tough-minded biography of a fiery revolutionary whose activism spanned the decades from Reconstruction to the New Deal.

Bancroft Prize winner Jones (Chair, History and Ideas/Univ. of Texas; A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America, 2013, etc.) evinces considerable respect for her subject, a woman born into slavery who gained fame in 1880s Chicago as one of the anarchist movement’s most vocal advocates of violent revolt. But the author finds plenty to criticize about Lucy Parsons (1853-1942), beginning with her decision, when she left Texas with her white husband, Albert, to disguise her racial identity and to almost entirely ignore the plight of African-Americans as she battled for the working class. Jones deplores the couple’s praise of “the dear stuff dynamite” as an instrument of liberation—loose talk that helped convict Albert and seven other anarchists of conspiracy to murder in the wake of an 1886 demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square even though none of them threw the dynamite that killed seven policemen. The biographer’s sympathies are clearly with more pragmatic radicals like Mother Jones, who argued that the anarchists’ theatrical tactics and rhetoric were distractions in the struggle for real reforms like the eight-hour working day. Jones also finds distasteful Lucy’s embrace of traditional gender roles, promoting herself as the widow of a Haymarket martyr and plugging her self-published copies of Albert’s biography at every opportunity while leading a sexually free life and railroading her son into an insane asylum after a quarrel. Nonetheless, the author acknowledges Lucy’s gifts as an orator and salutes her refusal to be relegated to a subordinate role by her male comrades. “In the end,” she concludes, “there are few lives that are not a bundle of contradictions and shortcomings.” Parsons remained committed to radical causes throughout her long life and gave her last speech, to a group of striking workers, scarcely a year before her death in 1942.

Comprehensive and fair, though a little more warmth toward Parsons would have made the book more engaging.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-07899-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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