Inspirational yarns of exceptional folks who made a difference—a bit corny but surprisingly entertaining.

SECRET HEROES

EVERYDAY AMERICANS WHO SHAPED OUR WORLD

Reverent character sketches of some unusually self-reliant Americans.

The 30 men and women celebrated by National Geographic book and magazine editor Martin (Land of the Ascending Dragon: Rediscovering Vietnam, 1997, etc.) are all unique characters of diverse origins and stations in life—independent inventors, captains of industry, dogged scientists, simple humanitarians, adventurers and undercover agents. Among them: Jonathan Letterman, the father of battlefield medicine; Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, the young farm hand who became president of the Acme Sucker Rod Company and mayor of Toledo; Kirk Bloodsworth, the first prisoner freed by DNA evidence; John Wallace Crawford, the prototypical cowboy-poet; Clarence Saunders, the founder of the first modern supermarket, Piggly Wiggly; Mary Bowser, the slave in the kitchen of Jefferson Davis who was a Yankee spy; Hercules Mulligan, Gen. George Washington’s secret agent-tailor; and Hugh Thompson, the brave pilot who exposed the massacre at My Lai. Though presented as woefully unsung heroes, at least some of the individuals may still be remembered: the Great White Hunter of the Museum of Natural History, Carl Akeley, for example, or the noble last Stone Age American, Ishi. Hedy Lamarr, the clever movie-star inventor, has been celebrated in two recent biographies—Stephen Michael Shearer’s Beautiful (2010) and Richard Rhodes’ Hedy’s Folly (2011). Martin—who has written for younger readers, an audience for whom this book will also be appropriate—taps a seemingly inexhaustible source of material; surely there are more hidden tales of independent, feisty Americans out there somewhere.

Inspirational yarns of exceptional folks who made a difference—a bit corny but surprisingly entertaining.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-209604-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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