An overly detailed but entertainingly irreverent account of two consequential men from the dawn of the American republic.

WAR OF TWO

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AARON BURR, AND THE DUEL THAT STUNNED THE NATION

A parallel biography of two prominent figures from the Federalist era whose lives came into catastrophic collision on a dueling ground.

Alexander Hamilton had a dazzling career as a young man. Chief aide to George Washington during the American Revolution and author of most of the Federalist Papers, as the first secretary of the treasury, he performed the miracle of putting the new nation's finances on a sound footing. Aaron Burr, a lawyer of prominence and brilliance equal to Hamilton's, engaged in politics to advance his own interests rather than any cause. He came within a single electoral vote of being elected president in Thomas Jefferson's place in 1800, gaining the vice presidency and Jefferson's enmity instead. Sedgwick (In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family, 2007, etc.) presents an emotional and psychological biography of the pair, partially inspired by Gore Vidal's satirical novel Burr (1973). In crisp, lively prose, the author presents evenhanded and insightful profiles of two highly intelligent, driven men with substantial flaws and very different characters: the hyperactive Hamilton, of volcanic output and intense devotion to the Federalist cause, the brooding and libidinous Burr, communicating in code, both attached to the contemporary lethal cult of honor. Sedgwick strives to present this as something of a Greek drama in which his characters gradually swirl closer together, increasing in hostility until their duel appears almost inevitable. The strategy is not entirely successful. Burr and Hamilton cooperated occasionally and didn't come into conflict with each other often or sharply enough to warrant the characterization as archrivals. By the time of their duel, they were both washed up, in severe financial distress, and with no political prospects. It almost seems as though they fought because they no longer had anything better to do.

An overly detailed but entertainingly irreverent account of two consequential men from the dawn of the American republic.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59240-852-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more