A celebration of music made in the spirit of friendship rather than careerism.



Conservative West Texas spawns radical creativity and lifelong bonds of friendship in this story of an unlikely band.

Even readers who are music fans may know little about the Flatlanders, though devotees for whom “the Flatlanders’ songs were the Rosetta Stone of West Texas music” will likely know the story well. More than 40 years ago, three boyhood friends and some fellow travelers journeyed from Lubbock to Nashville to cut an album, which was not released at the time. Subsequently, Joe Ely became a cult favorite as a honky-tonk rocker and dynamic live performer (championed by both Bruce Springsteen and the Clash), and his recordings of songs by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock spawned music careers for those two former Flatlanders as well. They continued to remain close while pursuing divergent musical paths before reuniting to record and perform after the turn of the century. Veteran Texas journalist Davis (Austin City Limits, 1999) knows these musicians well, as well as the culture that spawned them, so it’s surprising that he relies so heavily on secondary sources, from which he quotes liberally without providing full information (referring to a magazine piece without the article’s title, author or year, for example, or naming the writer without the publication or year). Perhaps a tight deadline was a problem, for there is also plenty of repetition of information that wouldn’t have survived a more thorough edit. Yet the author remains a colorful wordsmith, describing the adventurous Hancock as someone who “keeps more irons in the fire than a blacksmith on Benzedrine,” and the principals themselves are great storytellers. Describing the Flatlanders’ circuitous route to some semblance of success, Gilmore says, “Joe used to say that none of us had a thimbleful of ambition. But between the three of us, we had a towering lack of ambition.”

A celebration of music made in the spirit of friendship rather than careerism.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-292-74554-4

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


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...


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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