A shameful episode exposed with thoroughness and a graceful pen. Highly recommended for students of the space race and...

THE MERCURY 13

THE UNTOLD STORY OF THIRTEEN AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE DREAM OF SPACE FLIGHT

Dogs and monkeys did it. So did American men, though some were, strictly speaking, unqualified. So did Russian women, early on. Why, then, did NASA balk at putting an All-American Girl in space?

This sharply pointed narrative adds a chapter to a growing history that treats the exclusion of American women from the professional mainstream—to say nothing of extraordinary pursuits like journeying to the moon. Debut author Ackmann (Women’s Studies/Mount Holyoke) opens her tale with a telling vignette from way back in 1957, as a crowd of reporters surrounds test pilot Jerrie Cobb on the tarmac as she’s about to nudge an Aero Commander above its record altitude of 27,000 feet. “Why does a pretty young girl like you want to spend her time around the dirt and grime and noise of airplanes?” one of the reporters asks her. Cobb and 12 of her peers—practiced aviators all, some trained or inspired by WWII female vets who had ferried flotillas of bombers across the oceans—would hear such questions again and again as they competed for spots in the Eisenhower- and Kennedy-era space program, undergoing the same daunting physical tests to which Mercury astronauts such as John Glenn were subjected. Though NASA administrator Randolph Lovelace speculated that women would fare better in space than men (if only because they weighed less), Ackmann writes, his higher-ups pulled the plug on the program even as the Mercury 13 proved their worth. When Cobb took their case to Washington, then-VP Lyndon Johnson objected, “If the United States allowed women in space, then blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, and other minorities would want to fly too.” And thus, though the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager had argued in their favor, these highly skilled fliers were grounded, leaving it to the Russians to put a woman in space fully 20 years before the American government saw fit to do so.

A shameful episode exposed with thoroughness and a graceful pen. Highly recommended for students of the space race and women’s issues alike.

Pub Date: June 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50744-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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