The good guys wear white, the bad guys black in this oceanic opera, but the formula satisfies.

UNTIL THE SEA SHALL FREE THEM

LIFE, DEATH, AND SURVIVAL IN THE MERCHANT MARINE

A former maritime reporter retells and updates the story of a disastrous sinking he covered for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now an executive on Wall Street, Frump tries with uneven success to recover his journalist’s chops in this thorough but tendentious account of the Marine Electric, a WWII-era vessel carrying 24,000 tons of coal from Virginia to Massachusetts that broke up in a storm on Feb. 10, 1983. Conditions were so rough that 31 of the 34 officers and crew died in the frigid water before help arrived. Frump describes the ship (a rusty veteran with a myriad of structural problems that Marine Transport Lines Inc. neglected to repair), introduces the crew, and identifies a hero: chief mate Bob Cusik, who survived the sinking and distinguished himself on the witness stand during the subsequent hearings. Like their counterparts in Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action, the owners’ sleek, shifty attorneys attempted first to rattle Cusik, then to discredit him, and finally to blame him. (Not to worry: he emerges victorious.) In a Melvillian move, the author tries to universalize his account with stories of other marine disasters, including the sinking of the Badger State during the Vietnam War and the 1964 loss of the Daniel Morrell, whose sole survivor suffered severe psychological trauma. Frump also intercuts scenes in the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer, whose reporters pursued the story with Woodward-and-Bernstein tenacity, and includes exchanges from the Marine Board of Investigation’s hearings, which produced another hero: Coast Guard Capt. Dom Calicchio, who suffered no fools gladly. An interesting epilogue reveals what the principals are doing nowadays and calculates the effects of the disaster on the Merchant Marine. Overall, it’s a gripping tale marred somewhat by clichés and overwriting, e.g., “To be free, he had to face his fear and listen to the song in his heart.”

The good guys wear white, the bad guys black in this oceanic opera, but the formula satisfies.

Pub Date: May 21, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50116-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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