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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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