A vivid, well-conceived look at western expansion in the old narrative-driven school of Bernard DeVoto and Wallace Stegner.

LIONS OF THE WEST

HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE WESTWARD EXPANSION

Novelist, poet and historian Morgan (Boone: A Biography, 2007, etc.) moves in the territory between hagiography and calumny in this look at the men who made Manifest Destiny manifest.

Thomas Jefferson, writes the author, seems to have been born looking west; throughout his childhood and early adulthood, he ventured farther and farther beyond the Virginia piedmont, though it was up to others, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore the region beyond the mountains by proxy for him. Morgan begins, properly, with Jefferson, and though his account is a touch diffuse—does it matter that Jefferson was a good condenser of law texts in this connection?—it affords an appropriately high-minded justification for a signal fact: namely, as the Mexican historian Josefina Zoraida Vázquez observed, that “the North Americans kept up this continuous expansion, and the United States government followed their footsteps.” Morgan follows with profiles, most of them illuminating and of just the right length, of some key players. Many are well known, such as the violent Andrew Jackson and the fearless Kit Carson; others are less well known and more interesting in the fact than in the myth, such as John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and John C. Frémont, the latter a scoundrel who figures in many histories but not much in the popular imagination these days. Morgan’s actors are sometimes even more obscure, though not deservedly so, such as the fair-minded diplomat Nicholas Trist, “idealistic to the point of seeming naive to a politician such as Polk.” The author is also good at pointing out some of the incidental ironies history affords, such as the fact that the men at the Alamo could have saved their skins had William Travis not “refused to recognize the authority of [Sam] Houston.”

A vivid, well-conceived look at western expansion in the old narrative-driven school of Bernard DeVoto and Wallace Stegner.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56512-626-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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