At its best, Gornall's prose is buoyant and watertight and his book shipshape.

HOW TO BUILD A BOAT

A FATHER, HIS DAUGHTER, AND THE UNSAILED SEA

Freelance journalist Gornall (Microwave Man, 2006) goes to hull and back in his quest to create a boat of simple, timeless beauty.

Armed with chutzpah, memories of nautical failures past, and a grasp of few hand tools beyond a computer keyboard, the author embarked on building one of the most exacting small wooden boats imaginable. It was a daunting task yoked to a seemingly preposterous one-year deadline. Gornall, from England's Shotley Peninsula, scoured the coast for the lumber, plans, and expert guidance he needed to make it happen. A father for the second time in his late 50s, he was determined to build the boat for his 3-year-old daughter. Dismissing “approval from the dull bureaucracy of sound judgment,” he persevered; suffering no small amount of angst, abrasions, and contusions, the author presented her with a splendid clinker-built (overlapping plank) craft in the traditional Nordic style. Gornall christened the boat Swift, hoping his daughter would treasure it one day as much as he. The author’s rivet-by-rivet account is both engrossing and occasionally confusing. Featuring a lexicon of terms that may be arcane to the uninitiated, the highly detailed narrative can become a slog. Still, it's an admirable effort at narrating a complex project usually reserved for artisanal boat builders of long experience. Gornall lends depth to the story with engaging bits of boat history, recollections of his two aborted attempts to row across the Atlantic Ocean, and a surprisingly compassionate account of growing up with an emotionally distant, alcoholic single mother. But the most touching emotions are the author’s fervent, overriding love for his daughter (with the boat as its embodiment) and his regret that he had not been more of a father to his now-grown son. “This was a thing of simple, ancient beauty,” he writes, “derived from the bounty of aged trees and the sweat of good, honest toil—my toil.”

At its best, Gornall's prose is buoyant and watertight and his book shipshape.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9939-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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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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