A gratifying, agenda-free story, effortlessly sweeping away tendentious criticisms of a first-rate American thinker and...

JANE ADDAMS AND THE DREAM OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

A LIFE

A perspicuous charting of the pilgrim’s progress that was Jane Addams’s hopeful, generous life.

Social activists get buffeted around more than most after they die both by their detractors and their champions. Elshtain (Social and Political Ethics/Univ. of Chicago; Real Politics, 1997, etc.) works hard, and successfully, here to clarify Addams’s goals in opening Hull House, the great settlement house in Chicago, and more generally in leading the life she chose. She persuasively establishes Addams’s importance as a social theorist, though that aspect of her work has sustained the most consistent attacks, by deploying extensive passages from her writings and speeches to illustrate her freethinking approach and her frequent eloquence. Elshtain has no difficulty dismissing the specious accusations of condescension, cultural fascism, and racism that have been leveled at Addams. Nor is it difficult to understand why her defense of anarchists, her peace activities, and her defense of immigrants and aliens won her such calumny. But her account of the founding of Hull House—beginning with what influenced Addams’s vision of it, from George Eliot to the social gospel—most decisively displays the great reformer’s empathy and humility and best explains how she could open the eyes of so many others to their abilities and possibilities. It is as difficult to imagine such an establishment now as it must have been wonderful to see it then: a place “available to any and all citizens of a city, including bewildered newcomers,” where hospitality, education, art classes, avenues of debate, even a bath, could be found along with childcare, union organizing, theatrical performances—the whole political and civic life of Chicago. “One is left nearly breathless,” Elshtain concludes.

A gratifying, agenda-free story, effortlessly sweeping away tendentious criticisms of a first-rate American thinker and activist. (8-page photo insert, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2002

ISBN: 0-465-01912-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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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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