Accessible and impressive in scope.

THE ARTIST, THE PHILOSOPHER, AND THE WARRIOR

THE INTERSECTING LIVES OF DA VINCI, MACHIAVELLI, AND BORGIA AND THE WORLD THEY SHAPED

Historian Strathern (Napoleon in Egypt, 2008, etc.) explores the decisive influence of a ruthless Renaissance prince on both a diplomat and an artist.

Amid the shifting alliances and vulnerable kingdoms of 15th-century Italy, Cesare Borgia (1475–1507), the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, assumed unchecked power at a young age when his father put him at the head of the warring papal forces. Aided by the invading army of France’s Louis XII, Borgia was urged by his father to carve out his own power base in Romagna, and by 1500 he had duly subdued it, along with Urbino and other city states. Florence bordered this region and was essentially defenseless, so able negotiator Niccolò Machiavelli was sent as part of a three-man delegation to press for Florence’s protection. Up close, Machiavelli could observe this exemplary warrior, known for his treachery, depravity and brilliance, and the diplomat later made Borgia the subject of The Prince. As part of his effort to appease the rapacious ruler, Machiavelli offered the services of Florentine native Leonardo da Vinci, an expert military engineer as well as celebrated painter and designer. During the next eight months, da Vinci toured Borgia’s fortifications and suggested improvements, as evidenced by the notebook sketches reproduced here. At the same time, the artist/humanist was digesting the moral ramifications of aiding Borgia’s military engine and finding them deeply repugnant. Meanwhile, Machiavelli was using the experience derived from diplomatic duties in the service of purely self-interested rulers like Borgia to set forth a new “science” of statecraft. Both artist and philosopher were irreparably marked by personal contact with “humanity’s evil nature,” argues Strathern in this rigorous and scholarly yet readable study of the confluence of three major Renaissance figures.

Accessible and impressive in scope.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-553-80752-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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