An impassioned biography of “a coherent and consistent thinker who adhered to his core political convictions across his...

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS

MILITANT SPIRIT

The life of an early American statesman and president who served as the young nation’s strenuous conscience.

Traub (Foreign Policy/New York Univ.; The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did), 2008, etc.) thoroughly explores the life of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), a “hard man” of deep erudition and conviction who descended from the American aristocracy and learned at the knees of an exacting father and mother what the great American governing principles meant for world leadership and peace. The author emphasizes his subject’s long, somewhat reluctant middle career as a diplomat, from his first posting in 1794 to the Hague to St. Petersburg and then to the Court of St. James during a turbulent time in European history. Breaking with his father’s Federalist Party over its Anglophilism at a time of trade and shipping tensions with Britain, Adams pursued an admirable, if tendentious, course of nonpartisanship over the course of his political career, from senator to secretary of state (under James Monroe) to one-term president to Massachusetts congressman (he was the first and only ex-president to serve in Congress). Traub examines how much Adams contributed to what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. “What Adams may have contributed most…was its astringency,” writes the author. Although Adams was a proponent of American expansion, he became intensely concerned at the question of admission of slave versus free states in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. During the latter part of his life as a congressman, he “seized the role of chief tormentor of the slavocracy” and represented in front of the Supreme Court the mutinous African captives aboard the Amistad. Most of all, Traub depicts a fully fleshed character, an extraordinary man driven by his birthright principles, a voluminous diarist, scholar, poet, polymath, eccentric, and iconoclast. The author also offers a masterly portrait of Adams’ wife, Louisa.

An impassioned biography of “a coherent and consistent thinker who adhered to his core political convictions across his decades of public service.”

Pub Date: March 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-02827-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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