Intelligent and sympathetic, but overlong and unfocused.

JOHN LENNON

THE LIFE

Comprehensive biography of the Beatles’ most outspoken and controversial member, whose murder by a demented fan in 1980 only added to his legacy.

Norman wrote one of the first and still one of the best Beatles histories (Shout!, 1981), and though he claims to have corrected many “inaccuracies and misjudgments” from that earlier work, there just isn’t much new to say about the group’s historic, hysterical popularity or John Lennon’s role in it. The author, who is also a veteran novelist (Everyone’s Gone to the Moon, 1996, etc.), tries to compensate by giving an in-depth account of Lennon’s early years, stressing the lifelong rage and fear of abandonment instilled by familial instability. He was raised by his Aunt Mimi after his father left, while his mother Julia lived nearby with her lover. Lennon was traumatized by Julia’s death in 1958, when he was 17. Norman takes a long time to get to the formation of the Beatles; the extraordinary songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney (who gets kinder assessment here than in Shout!); the group’s seasoning in the tawdry clubs of Hamburg; their first taste of the mania they inspired in female fans when they played Liverpool’s Cavern club in 1961; their breakthrough into national stardom thanks to manager Brian Epstein’s and record producer George Martin’s nurturing of their talent; the paradigm-shattering American tour of 1964; and the rest of the familiar tale, retold here with care but little passion. The author is frank enough about Lennon’s insecurities and capacity for cruelty to have alienated his widow, Yoko Ono, who initially cooperated with Norman but withdrew her endorsement after reading the manuscript, concluding it was “mean to John.” It isn’t. Norman’s fully three-dimensional portrait has no evident axe to grind, but it’s also hard to tell why he bothered. He’s particularly perfunctory with the post-Beatle years, evincing respect but no real affinity for Lennon’s political radicalism and avant-garde adventures with Ono.

Intelligent and sympathetic, but overlong and unfocused.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-075401-3

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more