A surviving-middle-age story that artfully blends the intriguing world of natural science with the theater of human foibles.

WAKING UP IN EDEN

IN PURSUIT OF AN IMPASSIONED LIFE ON AN IMPERILED ISLAND

Journalist Fleeson fashions a new life for herself at a Hawaiian botanical garden.

When the bean counters took over the Philadelphia Inquirer, the author knew her days were numbered. She nipped a potential midlife crisis in the bud by accepting an out-of-the-blue job offer to become a fundraiser for the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) in Kauai, Hawaii. Gardening had always been a passion of hers, and here was a chance to make an impact. As her new boss and friend, colorfully irrepressible botanist Dr. Bill Klein, said, “It’s the nature of gardeners to take these disasters and improve on them.” He might have been speaking of Fleeson’s life, but he was actually referring to their task of getting the NTBG back on its feet after many moribund years and a devastating hurricane. Fleeson sets forth in appealingly bald language the events of her days: learning the ropes at work, delving into the history of the botanical garden, maintaining her love life, pursuing the island’s more telling stories. She downplays her emotions but doesn’t scant the intimacy of her role as participant, chronicling missteps aplenty while she negotiates her way through the cultural pitfalls of both her new job and Hawaiian society. Fleeson’s descriptive talents come to the fore as she summons the pungent dilapidation of her surroundings and the drama of the landscape, “a fertile universe, primordial and undisturbed.” She shows finesse in making vest-pocket stories of her investigations: the controversy over native vs. exotic species, Isabella Bird’s Hawaiian sojourn, the role of plate tectonics in Hawaii’s geology, profiles of the men whose estate became the NTBG and island biogeography and extinction. Additional subjects include death, politics and eating mangoes in the nude.

A surviving-middle-age story that artfully blends the intriguing world of natural science with the theater of human foibles.

Pub Date: June 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56512-486-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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