EDMUND WILSON

A BIOGRAPHY

The prolific biographer of Conrad, Poe, and Hemingway (among others) doesn't have to compete with earlier books in this case, since his straightforward account beats to the marketplace even the authorized life—due at some indefinite future date from Wilson editor Lewis Dabney—of America's greatest man of letters. Meyers's real competition is Wilson (18951972) himself, whose sexually frank and socially candid journals, as well as his many memoirs and volumes of published letters, offer a formidably complete chronicle. To his credit, Meyers has studied these documents with a discerning eye and arranged the best parts into a coherent narrative. Particularly attentive to Wilson's vivid sex life, he notes the short and stocky belle-lettrist's belated sexual initiation (at age 25) and a list of lovers that reads like a Who's Who of modern literature, including Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, Louise Bogan, Leonie Adams, and Mary McCarthy, who became his third wife. Meyers sheds new light on this tumultuous marriage, which got vitriolic treatment from McCarthy in several novels as well as in Intellectual Memoirs, though her lawyers insisted on suppressing Wilson's comments on it in the published edition of his diaries. Far from an ideal husband or father (he married four times and sired three children), Wilson was hardly the violent cad depicted by the ambitious and deluded McCarthy, Meyers concludes. The author covers Wilson's troubled financial history (including his fracas with the IRS) and surprising sales figures—his book on the Dead Sea Scrolls was his only best-seller, far exceeding the figures for such better-known volumes as Axel's Castle and Patriotic Gore. A bland critic, Meyers wisely skimps on literary analysis in favor of character judgments, which he makes with considerable shrewdness. A neat and fluent narrative that will satisfy Wilson fans as well as those who want an introduction to America's Samuel Johnson.

Pub Date: May 8, 1995

ISBN: 0-395-68993-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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