O'Brien brings an explorer's passion to his lively work, which suffers, nevertheless, from a certain thinness of research.

BENEATH THE NEON

LIFE AND DEATH IN THE TUNNELS OF LAS VEGAS

Underneath Las Vegas, human beings live in dark catacombs—a practice not uncommon in large cities.

Las Vegas-based journalist O'Brien offers an engaging if slapdash account of exploring the city's storm drains and meeting the people living in them. In 2002, O'Brien and fellow writer Josh Ellis went wandering through the drains and emerged with stories. O'Brien's book (with moody, too-sparsely-used photos by Danny Mollohan) uses that adventure as a starting point for his return during a 2004 sabbatical from his day job, editing the local alt-weekly. Armed with a tape recorder and a couple failing flashlights, O'Brien covers the underground, chatting up the dozens of folks he comes across. They're a mostly welcoming crowd—many Vietnam vets, most with gambling and drug problems, all with a story to tell. Less friendly are the crack-addled street kids who advise O'Brien to stay clear. There are wonders to be found in the gloom, including a woman who came all the way to Vegas just to bring gifts to her tunnel-dweller son and make sure he's okay, and a graffiti art gallery that surpasses anything in the glittering city above. There's also danger: During heavy rains, the area can fill with floodwater at the rate of a foot per minute.

O'Brien brings an explorer's passion to his lively work, which suffers, nevertheless, from a certain thinness of research.

Pub Date: June 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-929712-39-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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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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