For Abbey completists, though, they’ll be divided: does Prentiss give away too many secrets in his quest for the final...

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FINDING ABBEY

THE SEARCH FOR EDWARD ABBEY AND HIS HIDDEN DESERT GRAVE

It’s on a hillside, within view of roadless desert and dug deep to keep the coyotes out. Prentiss (Creative Writing/Norwich Univ.) roams sun-struck country to find a famed grave, having narrowed its location down to a Massachusetts-sized parcel.

The late novelist and environmentalist Edward Abbey (1927-1989) liked to imagine that he’d be reincarnated as a turkey vulture, floating on thermals and feasting on carrion. He likely didn’t imagine that he’d become the subject of exercises in creative nonfiction, but Prentiss offers a book that’s part memoir, part literary appreciation, part biography, part travelogue, part jeremiad for what the rest of the world has become. These parts are of uneven value. On the biographical front, Prentiss, who never knew his subject personally, has little to add to the standard works on Abbey, many of which are also uneven. Prentiss brings value to the proposition by interviewing numerous people who did know Abbey, and he settles a few matters that will nonetheless provoke controversy precisely because they’re mentioned at all: the alcoholism (what causes esophageal varices, he asks a counselor and then a doctor, and the answer comes back, “Drinking”), the lechery, the racism. The appreciation is very good: Prentiss offers fine, thoughtful readings of Abbey’s writing, and he applies it judiciously to his life and ours. The reverie of the desert—well, Abbey would doubtless grin wolfishly and disdainfully at effusions such as this: “In this landscape, my tongue is fat from dehydration. My scalp and neck sunburned. Cactus needles hang from my calves. Small rivulets of blood stain my legs like badges of honor.”

For Abbey completists, though, they’ll be divided: does Prentiss give away too many secrets in his quest for the final resting place? Those fans will want to read this book and argue about it over a desert campfire.

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8263-5591-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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