Despite a lack of revelations, this is probably the best Olivier book for general readers.

OLIVIER

Veteran biographer Ziegler (Edward Heath, 2010, etc.) offers a well-rounded portrait of the legendary English actor.

Laurence Olivier’s life (1907–1989) has been the subject of innumerable biographies, ranging from innocuous (Anthony Holden, 1988) to scandalous (Donald Spoto, 1992)—not to mention his own weirdly frank yet ultimately unrevealing Confessions of an Actor (1982). Ziegler’s version contains nothing particularly new on Olivier’s earlier years: the rivalry with John Gielgud in Romeo and Juliet, the partnership with Ralph Richardson at the Old Vic (home to Olivier’s greatest performance, in Richard III); his pioneering efforts as a popularizer of Shakespeare on film, most notably with Henry V; and the tragic marriage to Vivien Leigh, doomed by the basic incompatibility of their talents. Ziegler does convey a vivid sense of what made Olivier the most famous stage actor of the 20th century: He simply worked harder than anyone else and invested his roles with a physical bravura that made him thrilling to watch. The biography is notable for a substantive account of Olivier’s tenure as director of England’s National Theatre, during which he helped establish a fledgling organization with his charm and charisma while also displaying the well-known competitiveness that kept such acting peers as Gielgud and Richardson off the National’s roster. Nonetheless, as Ziegler notes, the National owed its existence to Olivier’s “passionate exuberance [and] dynamic energy”; he deserved better than the poorly managed transition to Peter Hall’s leadership in 1973. Olivier’s final years were marked by a series of debilitating illnesses that left him unable to work onstage, a painful fate for an actor who regarded film and TV as second choices. His formerly happy third marriage to Joan Plowright suffered in this period as well; once he could no longer act, he was a querulous old man waiting to die.

Despite a lack of revelations, this is probably the best Olivier book for general readers.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62365-042-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: MacLehose/Quercus

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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