REFLECTED GLORY

THE LIFE OF PAMELA CHURCHILL HARRIMAN

The riveting adventure of a red-haired country girl who became, in Smith's characterization, the last of the great courtesans and an internationally recognized diplomat. Pamela Harriman's life is the stuff of romance novels. The seductive heroine dallies with a series of rich and well-born lovers, including not only first husband Randolph Churchill, but American diplomat Averell Harriman, broadcasting legend Edward R. Murrow, millionaires Jock Whitney, Aly Khan, Gianni Agnelli, and Elie de Rothschild. Not the least of her admirers (but not her lover) was Winston Churchill, who was genuinely fond of his daughter-in-law. She in turn played on the Churchill name to bolster a brilliant career on the international social circuit, further enhanced by her marriage to American theatrical producer Leland Hayward. Widowed by Hayward, she married former lover Averell Harriman. After Harriman's death and with his legacy, she used her charm and social skills to become the ``den mother'' of the Democratic Party, earning an appointment as ambassador to France. Relying on many of the same sources but without the sour bite of Christopher Ogden's 1994 Harriman biography, Smith (In All His Glory: William S. Paley, 1990) gives us a portrait of a woman who has left many wounded in her wake (including her neglected son), but who has spent her life, as she wanted to, at the center of power and wealth. She brings Harriman's story up to the present, with a detailed portrait of her acrimonious feud with the other Harriman heirs. Attractive but not beautiful, charming but not witty or well educated, how did Pam do it? As many of her famous predecessors, like Pompadour and de Maintenon, did: With extraordinary determination and by catering to her man. Sure to ruffle the feathers of feminists, but a convincing depiction of an era not very long ago when the only route to the top for a woman of average ability and above-average ambition was in the wake of a man. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen). (First serial to Vanity Fair)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-80950-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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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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