Conveys the facts, but little else.

THE LIFE OF JOHN WESLEY

A BRAND FROM THE BURNING

From British politician/author Hattersley (Buster’s Diaries, 2000, etc.): a biography of Methodism’s founder regrettably lacking in the “enthusiasm” that made his evangelical sect the most dynamic faith in 18th-century England.

John Wesley (1703–91) was not alone in feeling there was something essential missing in the anemic brand of Protestantism offered by the complacent, corrupt Church of England. The Holy Club established by his younger brother Charles at Oxford, which John joined in 1729, was one of many small religious societies whose members sought a more active and committed spiritual life. Methodism (so called because the members believed in systematic exercises of piety) became a national movement because John Wesley’s emphasis on an ecstatic moment of conversion and a personal relationship with God spoke powerfully to people neglected by the established church, especially poor people. But Hattersley has little interest in the qualities that sparked tumultuous mass response when, in 1739 Wesley began reluctantly preaching in fields; he calls fellow Methodist George Whitefield a better orator and suggests Whitefield would have been a better leader. The author stresses Wesley’s constant doctrinal shifts, most of which will be incomprehensible to modern readers not versed in theological history, and his equally vacillating relationships with women to paint an unflattering portrait of a man who frequently changed his mind and then insisted he’d believed the same thing all along. This makes it difficult to appreciate Methodism’s enormous impact on English society and culture, or to have much interest in Wesley himself. Lengthy discussions of debates over Methodism’s organizational structure and its uneasy relationship with the Church of England, from which it did not officially separate until after Wesley’s death, are certainly necessary but not written in a manner likely to engage the general reader. Hattersley’s joint biography of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth (Blood and Fire, 2000) did a much better job of intertwining psychological, religious, and social issues in a more compelling narrative.

Conveys the facts, but little else.

Pub Date: June 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50334-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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