A lively rendering of a work long out of print in English. Just the thing for anyone who has to survive in a political world.

THE MEMOIRS OF CATHERINE THE GREAT

Long misjudged by history, Empress Catherine (1762–96) gets a word in for herself.

This new translation of Catherine’s memoirs does much to make her seem a contemporary, or at least not quite so removed from our time. A product of the Enlightenment, Catherine fended off her adolescent loneliness by reading: the classics in their original languages, works in the modern European languages, complex books thought to be above the heads of women. The reason for the 15-year-old’s loneliness? Her husband, scarcely older, who was a bit of a dimwit and more than a bit of a child; when she first meets Peter III of Russia, to whom the young German princess was married off in 1744, he is busily playing soldier with his household staff. Later he graduates to racing dogs in his rooms and beating the losers. “These were truly the games of a child and of perpetual childishness,” Catherine laments, scarcely becoming the future tsar. For her part, the young woman born Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst had early on learned more regal ways: “I saw with pleasure,” she writes, “that from day to day I gained the affections of the public, who regarded me as an interesting child who was not without intelligence.” Certainly the Empress Elizabeth came to regard the young Grand Duchess this way, lamenting, by Catherine’s account, the fact that her protégée should be reading the works of Plato in Greek and brushing up on the masterpieces of Russian literature while her idiot husband was concocting schemes to build a palace in which everyone, the royals included, would dress up like Capuchin monks. No political memoir—and Catherine is a shrewdly political creature through and through—would be complete without its intrigue, and, as Peter discovers, that is surely the case here. As we leave off, Catherine is preparing to deliver a mighty comeuppance, but that’s the stuff of the history books.

A lively rendering of a work long out of print in English. Just the thing for anyone who has to survive in a political world.

Pub Date: July 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-679-64299-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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