The gambler made into an object of fascination, absolutely dazzling from a distance, increasingly noisome the closer you get.

ONE OF A KIND

THE RISE AND FALL OF STUEY “THE KID” UNGAR, THE WORLD’S GREATEST POKER PLAYER

What began as a ghostwritten autobiography of the most feared tournament player in poker history became a biography by default when Stuey “The Kid” Ungar’s dope habit finally killed him.

He was to the manner born: his father was a bookie and loan shark on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and young Ungar knew all about gambling long before the Lottery and OTB. But he brought something special to his milieu: a natural card sense aided by a fantastic memory and mixed with a risk-taking persona. He was like a gladiator on the green felt, write gambling-journalists Dalla and Alson (Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie, 1996) in this jumpy if dispiriting account. By the time of his bar mitzvah, he was wired in and wired up: “What good was a fucking Treasury bond to me? Was I gonna be able to take that to a dice game? Give me the cash.” His genius was gin, but he made his fortune at poker, where he won the World Series of Poker three times. As mesmerizing as he was at the poker table, however, he was also a rough piece of work (as seen particularly through interview snippets with Dalla, originally his ghostwriter): rude, derisive, a poor winner and a worse loser, a man-child who had been insulated from the mundane tasks of everyday life, incapable of responsibility. The money came and went, won at the card table—and the table action described here is excellent stuff—then lost at the track or ballpark. The fame and the money, the authors suggest, along with Ungar’s loneliness and insecurities, resulted in a severe cocaine habit, so severe it collapsed one side of the nose when passageways had dissolved. Ungar took to crack as an alternative. The story gets more and more awful, until Ungar dies in 1998, at age 45, in a vomit-splattered motel room.

The gambler made into an object of fascination, absolutely dazzling from a distance, increasingly noisome the closer you get.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7434-7658-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

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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