Shaken readers may recite the Twenty-fourth Psalm each page. Anyone for the Apocalypse?

ROBERT LUDLUM’S THE CASSANDRA COMPACT

Like Fellini’s Roma, the jacket cover here says Robert Ludlum’s The Cassandra Compact—a device we hope doesn’t catch on. Clean-prosist and coauthor Shelby wrote Days of Drums (1996).

Ludlum now hops between Covert-One original trade paperbacks bounced out with way-second-billed coauthors (The Hades Factor, with Gayle Lynds, 2000) and hardcovers written solo (The Prometheus Deception, 2000). Covert-One is the president’s personal, supersecret intelligence group unknown even to CIA, NSA, the Secret Service, or Pentagon. Bowing in as Ludlum & Co.’s fresh new hero in Hades was Colonel Jon Smith, Army doctor and virologist, and his beloved Dr. Sophia Russell, molecular biologist, who died during the outbreak of a new virus that might have wiped out mankind. Cassandra picks up Smith a year later, burying a diamond ring under Sophia’s gravestone, where he meets Dr. Megan Olson, a biochemist who has switched from jobs with the NIH and WHO to being the first alternate on the next space-shuttle mission. Will she be his new love, or will it be Sophia’s sister in Moscow, Randi Russell, who may be CIA? The twist this time is smallpox. The virus has been wiped out, but both the US and Russia keep small quantities to work with if needed. The villain is a nut who wants the Russian sample. But smallpox is too slow-acting for bio-warfare, though up in the microgravity of space, whoosh! its speed and growth turn horrendous—if only he could get the sample up to the space lab. No sooner does Smith get word that the Russian sample has gone astray than pow! it’s blastoff into Ludlumland with bodies dropping in fiery fusillades. Even teams of assassins aren’t safe, being killed off by their own bosses. And when the bugs make it into outer space, mankind faces the big chill.

Shaken readers may recite the Twenty-fourth Psalm each page. Anyone for the Apocalypse?

Pub Date: May 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26343-5

Page Count: 356

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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