A missed opportunity to put one of America’s truly unique writers in a larger historical context.

IT'S ALL A KIND OF MAGIC

THE YOUNG KEN KESEY

A British scholar unearths the roots of one of the 20th century’s most brash and colorful writers and public figures.

Blame Tom Wolfe and that damn bus. Due to the image of novelist Ken Kesey (1935–2001), popularized in the pages of Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the writer has been nearly doomed to historical obscurity as the drug-addled leader of the Merry Pranksters. In fact, Kesey was a brilliant, sensitive and ambitious creator, as interested in the act of performance as he was in the accolades of critical success. In this slim biography, Dodgson (History/Lakeland Coll.) examines how Kesey’s early influences, his contemporaries and the times he was born into all shaped his evolution from literary lion to ringleader of the countercultural circus. Dodgson first met Kesey in 1999, shortly before the author’s untimely death. While the young scholar is careful not to imply a true friendship with the author, he displays an obvious giddiness at meeting the icon; Dodgson seems more in awe at Kesey’s collection of artifacts than in the man himself. The author provides a fairly straightforward examination of Kesey’s early life and works, with special attention paid to the bohemian scene around Perry Lane near Stanford University and the development of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion. Dodgson does turn up a few unexpected gems from a largely unreported era of Kesey’s life, including anecdotes about fellow travelers like Neal Cassady and Ken Babbs. But, much like the collective hangover left over from the 1960s, the book also suffers from the same revisionist romanticism that dogged Kesey’s remaining decades. “Theirs was not a revolution of guns and glory,” Dodgson writes. “It was a new type of revolution: one of morals, of manners, and of the mind.” Heavy, man.

A missed opportunity to put one of America’s truly unique writers in a larger historical context.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-299-29510-3

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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