Vintage Watson: brash, bumptious, brilliant—and never boring.

AVOID BORING PEOPLE

LESSONS FROM A LIFE IN SCIENCE

Age cannot whither nor custom stale the sharp tongue of “Honest Jim”—the title the Nobel Prize–winning Watson (DNA: The Secret of Life, 2003, etc.) originally wanted for The Double Helix, his first tell-all account of science and personal history.

Now in his late 70s, Watson chronicles his life from birth through middle age. We learn of a close-knit family and an early love of ornithology, but the even greater appeal of genetics by the time of graduate school. Watson’s career took off as he began working with hot-shot geneticists studying bacterial viruses (phages) like the future Nobelists Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück. Indeed, the names of Watson’s mentors, peers and former graduate students read like a Who’s Who in molecular biology. They also underscore some of the “remembered lessons” he adds to each chapter, e.g., “choose a young thesis advisor”; “choose an objective apparently ahead of its time.” The main text deals with the years Watson taught at Harvard and later when he became director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, moving it from near bankruptcy to growth and continued pre-eminence. Watson has certainly made his mark as scientist, teacher, textbook writer, nurturer of talent and canny administrator. But Honest Jim also made known his contempt for mediocre faculty and administrators, and he lost a key battle in trying to get Harvard to fund tumor virus studies—the Next Big Thing in the ’60s and ’70s. Around that time, Jim, ever the nerd, finally met and won the lovely Liz, a Radcliffe undergraduate who married the 39-year-old bachelor in 1968. The chronicle ends abruptly in the mid-’70s, save for a shocker of an epilogue 30 years later. Watson again confronts Harvard with the need to beef up basic science only to face Larry Summers and later Derek Bok, who had distinctly other ideas—though Watson does not fault Summers for his conjecture on women in science.

Vintage Watson: brash, bumptious, brilliant—and never boring.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-375-41284-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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