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UNCLE TUNGSTEN

MEMORIES OF A CHEMICAL BOYHOOD

The realm of science is alchemy in Sacks’s hands as he spins pure gold from base metals. (24 drawings, 4 pages of photos)

Artful, impassioned memoir of a youth spent lost in the blinding light of chemistry from neurologist/essayist Sacks (The Island of the Colorblind, 1998, etc.).

He grew up in wartime England in a sizeable extended intellectual family: doctors, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and general polymaths. Early on an uncle introduced Oliver to the thrall of metals, and he came to know gold, silver, copper, tungsten, and so many others as a child knows an attic or a woodlot, by taste and smell and quirk: the cry of tin as it bends, the nobility of iridium, radium’s “ultimate, fatal red.” He became a familiar of their gleam and slick, heft and chroma, and especially their inviolacy, for his was a precarious world—if he wasn’t having bombs dropped on his head in London, he was being savagely beaten at boarding school—and he found security and relief in the stability of metals. In a kind and gracious voice, Sacks guides readers on his journey of passionate discovery into the romance of chemistry. He depicts the discipline as a detailed, naturalistic, and descriptive science, a 19th-century one, but make no mistake about it, lots of pure science marches through these pages—accompanied, thankfully, by its ability to spark wonder and delight. Robert Boyle and Antoine Lavoisier are introduced, as are Humphry Davy and his alkaline earth metals, John Dalton and his atomic theory, the wild and extravagant Dmitry Mendeleev, whose periodic table sends Sacks reeling with an appreciation of the mind’s ability to decipher the “superarching principle uniting and relating all the elements.” Sacks always has an eye skinned for the evocative and poignant in this history of family and science, from his brother’s madness to the intensity of limelight to the intoxication of radioactivity, not to mention his own decaying orbit under the spell of chemistry.

The realm of science is alchemy in Sacks’s hands as he spins pure gold from base metals. (24 drawings, 4 pages of photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40448-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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NIGHT

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

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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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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