Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.




Essig (Sociology/Middlebury Coll.; Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other, 1999) looks at the American obsession with plastic surgery and the cultural and economic forces that drive it.

“In the first decade of the twenty-first century,” writes the author, “Americans had more than 10 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures”—at a cost of around $12.5 billion annually. Few Americans, it seems, especially aging women who make up the bulk of cosmetic-procedure customers, have not at least contemplated breast implants, liposuction, face-lifts, Botox injections and even vaginal rejuvenation. Plastic surgery is no longer seen as a luxury but a necessity. The reasons for this are complex and interconnected, writes Essig. As photography, the beauty industry, advertising and celebrity culture developed, an unreal and unobtainable image of (white) female beauty was internalized and thus sought after by most American women. While improvements in medical technology made plastic surgery safer and cheaper, two seminal events from the Reagan era contributed greatly to its mass popularity—allowing doctors to advertise their services and the deregulation of credit. Suddenly, plastic surgery was more visible to potential customers, who could pay for their plastic procedures with credit cards. Massive consumer debt ensued, not only for plastic surgery but for any consumer product that might make us happy. As the American economy declined in the late-’90s, many searched for personal solutions to problems that were essentially structural. If we could not remake the economy, we could remake ourselves, a line of logic that followed the quintessential American ethic of the endless possibility of personal reinvention. Thus, we have become trapped in an endless cycle of debt. The author suggests that we should resist the endless demands for perfect beauty and demand the regulation of banking and medical industries.

Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0055-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet