Yet Anton’s profiles ring true, and readers will enjoy learning of their triumphs.

BOLD SCIENCE

SEVEN SCIENTISTS WHO ARE CHANGING OUR WORLD

Engaging profiles of seven scientists who took part in the breakthroughs of the 1990s.

Within a few years, researchers will identify each of the millions of units in the human genome. Much of the credit for that accomplishment must go to geneticist Craig Venter, who assembled the technology to sequence 25 genes per day—a spectacular improvement over the tedious lab work that preceded it. Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy led a pioneering team to an unpractical but utterly fascinating breakthrough: they discovered planets circling other stars. Brain research also entered a golden age in the 1990s, and Susan Greenfield was able to propose ingenious new theories to explain consciousness, the greatest mystery of brain function. Measuring light from unimaginably distant stars, Saul Perlmutter helped trigger a revolution in cosmology. It turns out that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and the force driving this acceleration represents most of the energy in the universe. No one knows what it is. The 1990s saw another authentic revolution, this one in biology: Carl Woese discovered an entirely new kingdom, the archaebacteria. Bizarre microorganisms, they were probably the first living things on earth. Anton (Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu, 1996) has done his homework. He knows that few prominent scientists nowadays fit the noble humanitarian mold of Jonas Salk or act the bashful genius like Einstein. Today they must perform on Oprah and talk in 30-second soundbites. Anton’s scientists are no shrinking violets: two are entrepreneurs, most are politically astute, and some are media stars. Since Anton writes from hindsight, their struggles end in success. Their opponents have their say but come across as wrong-headed and not very nice. This approach contravenes Stephen Jay Gould’s first principle of scientific controversy: those who are wrong are not more stupid or even less perceptive than those who are right. This seems paradoxical and most popular writers don’t subscribe to it.

Yet Anton’s profiles ring true, and readers will enjoy learning of their triumphs.

Pub Date: June 7, 2000

ISBN: 0-7167-3512-1

Page Count: 180

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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