Broad rather than deep, but still an entertaining and occasionally enlightening read—perfect for the coffee table or...

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THE BIG, BAD BOOK OF BEASTS

THE WORLD'S MOST CURIOUS CREATURES

In the great tradition of the bestiaries of yore, Allied Artists researcher/archivist Largo (Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages, 2008, etc.) parades the real, the extinct and the imagined for our shivers and delectation.

The author delivers plenty of the usual suspects—griffins, harpies, basilisks, trolls, manticores, the phoenix, mermaids, etc.—as well as fun parvenues—e.g., the Ahuizoti, which was chronicled by Columbus and supposedly had “five hands, with one growing from the end of its tail.” Other interesting entries: the bonnacon, a flatulent European buffalo, which, when frightened, “released a thunderous fart…a sulfur-smelling gas that became flammable and scorched a wide path as far as 100 yards from the beast’s rear end”); the albatross, which can fly for 10 years (true); the Goliath bird-eating spiders, which are as big as personal-pizza platters and actually devour birds; the Mongolian death worm, which “can discharge a harsh yellowish spit that is highly acidic, capable of melting metals and said to be instantaneously lethal to humans”; and the always-fascinating Komodo dragon, whose mouth “is literally a cesspool of biotoxins, containing more than fifty poisonous bacterium, including the deadly staph.” And more: The shock of an electric eel runs to 600 volts, the lantern shark glows in the dark, and the leafy sea dragon looks remarkably like a piece of seaweed. Archival and some contemporary artwork accompanies the entries, most suitably cringe-inducing. However, Largo doesn’t dig very deep here and makes little effort to explain, say, why the bear possesses mysterious significance to so many people or the beaver totemic value. Much remains in shadow, and some readers will wish for more background.

Broad rather than deep, but still an entertaining and occasionally enlightening read—perfect for the coffee table or bathroom.

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-208745-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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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