This incisive, illuminating book shows the personal toll that success took on all responsible, the price paid for laughs.

LETTERMAN

THE LAST GIANT OF LATE NIGHT

The tale of a tormented TV star and his legacy.

This is a critical biography, not in the sense of being negative (although there are parts that Letterman won’t like, since he doesn’t seem to like much), but as a work of criticism that focuses on the inner workings of a TV career rather than any life away from show business. “Years before the term ‘Generation X’ moved into circulation, David Letterman made ironic detachment seem like the most sensible way to approach the world,” writes New York Times comedy critic Zinoman (Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, 2011) in this sharp, revealing biography. Such an attitude would establish him as a generational spokesman during an era of political apathy. Yet Letterman was more obsessed than detached, a “spectacularly committed hypochondriac,” a self-lacerating critic of his own show, and a performer who had to be pushed out of his comfort zone for his paradigm-shifting innovations. Though he played his eccentricities and insecurities for laughs, they were no laughing matter for the staff that was crucial in the development of his comedic dynamic, the writers who so often found themselves isolated (or occasionally berated) by the boss they were trying so desperately to please. The most significant of these collaborators was Merrill Markoe, his partner and foil from his early stint on daytime TV, who, “as much as anyone…helped invent the aesthetic of David Letterman.” Most of the rest were men, frequently from Harvard, and the boys’ club atmosphere became more of a problem as Letterman’s sexual relations with female interns became public. Zinoman’s analysis is often refreshingly counterintuitive: Letterman was a good interviewer. He recast and renewed himself during the writers’ strike. He didn’t fail as Oscar host. He was even more miserable as the winner of the late-night ratings war than he had been as the underdog.

This incisive, illuminating book shows the personal toll that success took on all responsible, the price paid for laughs.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-237721-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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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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