THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY

THE ECCENTRIC STORY OF ``JOE'' CARSTAIRS, FASTEST WOMAN ON WATER

In this superbly written biography, Summerscale brings to life the extraordinary and eccentric “Joe— Carstairs. A London Times bestseller and already nominated for the Whitbread Biography of the Year Prize, this volume takes empathetic hold of an enterprising, cross-dressing woman bent on devouring the world whole. Marion “Joe” Carstairs was heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and clearly predestined to eccentricity. Her childhood was emotionally arid. Her mother early succumbed to men, drink, and drugs. Marion was by nature a provocateur and lived to challenge the sexual morals of her day. By the 1920s she had seen the battlefield and the barroom, found her identity as a heavy-smoking, tattooed lesbian, distinguished herself as a record-breaking speedboat racer, and become the self-fashioned ruler of Whale Cay, a small Bahamian island she purchased with her considerable personal fortune. Any one of these might have made her unique; the combination made her positively fascinating. In a life “powered by her money, Joe lifted herself clear of censure by dint of nerve and speed.— She lived and loved relentlessly, visibly, and famously. (The Windsors, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich were but a few of her cohorts.) But somewhere within was a heart the beat only for Lord Tod Wadley, a leather-faced, Steiff doll of a man to whom she was unendingly devoted. Their personalities were bizarrely entwined. Ultimately, Carstairs’s lust for privacy, and for control, was so great that it threatened to consume her. The dazzling and enigmatic life she led soon faded from view. Not until Summerscale, obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph at the time of Carstairs’s death in 1993, set out to research anomalies in the sketchy details of her life did it all come back. Stylistically restrained and well paced, this unforgettable tale of one woman’s raw hunger for immortality needed no more than this eloquent telling to lift clear off the page. Captivating fun. (44 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88018-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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