Surely one of the most exhaustively-researched attempts to exorcise personal demons.

IN MY BLOOD

SIX GENERATIONS OF MADNESS AND DESIRE IN AN AMERICAN FAMILY

Novelist and Harvard grad Sedgwick (The Education of Mrs. Bemis, 2002) painstakingly scrutinizes his Boston Brahmin family history to reveal more than a few skeletons.

In 2000, at age 46, Sedgwick was enjoying a thriving writing career and a loving marriage that yielded two beautiful daughters. But poor investment choices, one daughter’s sports injuries and general malaise slowly chipped away at his happiness and tipped his downward spiral into debilitating depression. Sleepless and crazed from the reverse effects of a sleeping pill, suicide seemed appealing, but instead, Sedgwick began psychotherapy and embarked on a journey of self-discovery by researching his New England family lineage, which dates back to the Washington, Jefferson and Adams’ presidencies, and the origins of his present mental state. Among his roots he finds an inherited legacy of mental illness and desperate behavior. Sedgwick’s multi-generational exploration entailed scouring mountains of previously unseen archives and making personal visits to the original townships of his ancestors, enabling the author to reanimate his family heritage beginning with Judge Theodore Sedgwick, who, in the late 1700s, was a spry lawyer with political aspirations in the Berkshires of leafy, colonial western Massachusetts. But second wife Pamela’s family had a history of psychiatric illness. When daughter Catharine Maria grew up, she became a renowned novelist, even as her brother, Harry, dissolved into madness. The legacy of Sedgwick’s grandfather Babbo is melodrama at its finest, and its story is nicely juxtaposed with tender memories of his manic depressive mother and his detached relationship with his father. Years later, a cousin, Edie, became Andy Warhol’s star-struck protégé, then died tragically. The author’s peace arrives with the ultimate embrace of his manic depression: the Sedgwick “family disease.”

Surely one of the most exhaustively-researched attempts to exorcise personal demons.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-052159-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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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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