Hoffman makes a solid case for restoring this fine fellow to the history of flight, and aviation buffs will find his...

WINGS OF MADNESS

ALBERTO SANTOS-DUMONT AND THE INVENTION OF FLIGHT

Inventor, humanitarian, lunatic: a pioneer of aviation receives his due in this well-rendered life.

As former Discover editor-in-chief Hoffman (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, 1998) notes at the outset, Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873–1932) is well remembered, even revered, in his native Brazil, and perhaps in a corner or two of France among the elderly—for it was in Paris, in 1903, that he invented a personal airship in which he tooled around, tethering it like a horse to the gas lamppost in front of his apartment. He also enjoyed hosting “aerial dinner parties” in which the likes of Louis Cartier, the Empress Eugenie, and various Rothschilds would climb atop high chairs to dine on a table suspended from the ceiling by steel cables—a memorable form of entertainment indeed, and perfectly suited to his aims. Paris was most receptive to Santos-Dumont’s odd vision, writes Hoffman, and Santos-Dumont held it in similar regard: “The city had everything going for it, he thought, except that the sky was astonishingly deficient in airships.” Santos-Dumont made his discoveries and blueprints available to all comers, quite unlike the Wright Brothers, his contemporaries and sometime competitors, who, Hoffman asserts, were in aviation for the money. And whereas the Wright Brothers conducted their experiments secretly, Santos-Dumont made a point of staging well-advertised public demonstrations. But things went badly for the inventor when he witnessed the destruction wrought by aircraft in WWI; he committed himself to an asylum in Switzerland that he later tried to escape—“He glued feathers to his arms and strapped on wings powered by a small motor in a backpack”—before removing himself to Brazil, where he committed suicide in the midst of a civil war in which both sides employed bombers, remarking, “I never thought my invention would cause bloodshed between brothers.”

Hoffman makes a solid case for restoring this fine fellow to the history of flight, and aviation buffs will find his spirited study a true pleasure.

Pub Date: June 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-6659-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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