No need to sensationalize Owsley's story; the pathologist would have emerged an even more awesome figure without the...

NO BONE UNTURNED

THE ADVENTURES OF THE SMITHSONIAN’S TOP FORENSIC SCIENTIST AND THE LEGAL BATTLE FOR AMERICA’S OLDEST SKELETONS

Smithsonian forensic pathologist Douglas Owsley gets an enthusiastic profile from investigative journalist Benedict (Public Heroes, Private Felons, 1997, etc.).

Once you know how to read them, skeletons are caches of knowledge, and no one is better at discerning their stories than Owsley, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Here, Benedict follows Owsley as he performs his fascinating, if at times grisly, labors examining the remains of Branch Davidian members burned at Waco, or sorting through the bone remnants of two Americans journalists murdered in Guatemala. It comes as no surprise that Owsley would become embroiled in the debate regarding Native American rights to remains, and much of this work is given to the dispute over the Kennebeck Man, an ancient skeleton of which the Umatilla and Yakima people wanted control, while Owsley countered that it was not of Native American ancestry. All the feints and obfuscations, legal dilly-dallying, and toadyism keep Benedict's extensive coverage of the case from becoming a legal thriller and almost torpedo the more intriguing story of Owsley's work, but the controversy does highlight the difficult choices to be made between scientific understanding and the rights of Native Americans: you can't know whether the remains are native until you have tampered with the evidence beyond what one culture deems decent and responsible. Benedict does a good job walking readers through Owsley at work, explaining how he reached various conclusions given the evidence, but there are too many times when the writer simply goes gaga over the pathologist’s talent (“his analytic faculties immediately became razor sharp, his senses and emotions all directed toward accomplishing his mission”) or embraces Owsley's questionable opinions, such as putting the responsibility for the death of children at Waco solely on the shoulders of the Davidians, as if the FBI agents were innocent bystanders.

No need to sensationalize Owsley's story; the pathologist would have emerged an even more awesome figure without the superhero garb. (8-page b&w photo insert, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-019923-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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