A delightfully convincing case that Washington was history’s least ruthless and most successful revolutionary.

REVOLUTIONARY

GEORGE WASHINGTON AT WAR

A provocative biography arguing that George Washington’s greatest accomplishment was guiding a rare revolution that turned out well for the revolutionaries.

Veteran historian O’Connell (Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, 2014, etc.) reminds readers that most subsequent revolutions featured mass murder and ended in tyranny. In the first half of the book, the author travels familiar ground but does it with insight and wit. An unapologetic patrician, Washington yearned to scale Virginia’s aristocracy and Britain’s military. He succeeded in the first, becoming a leading figure in the French and Indian War and marrying Virginia’s richest widow. His failure, despite aggressive lobbying, to receive a royal commission was Britain’s first great mistake. A member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, he dutifully supported opposition to Britain’s clumsy attempts to tax the colonists. By the time fighting broke out in 1775, everyone knew that Washington wanted to lead the army because he arrived at the Continental Congress in full dress uniform. Modern historians snicker, but it resonated with contemporaries, already impressed by his dignity, modesty, and reputation. He was the unanimous choice. O’Connell points out that Britain had long been crushing rebellions in Ireland and Scotland and saw no reason to change tactics in America. Even discounting patriot propaganda, looting and rape were common, prisoners were treated badly, and commanders known for cruelty were mostly British. Scholars wonder at his deference to the ineffectual Continental Congress. As generalissimo with a loyal cadre, he could have taken charge at any time but never did and expressed outrage when others suggested it. “He fervently believed in his own high-mindedness and was determined to conduct himself accordingly,” writes the author. “Nothing compromises morality like a long, violent revolution, and George Washington…remained a bulwark of decency, a remarkable achievement and possibly his greatest contribution to the Glorious Cause.”

A delightfully convincing case that Washington was history’s least ruthless and most successful revolutionary.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9699-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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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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