An empathetic and absorbing narrative as riveting as a TV drama.



A registered nurse recounts a typical shift.

Brown (Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between, 2010), who contributes a column to the New York Times opinion page, delivers a vivid depiction of a clinical nurse's standard 12-hour shift on a hospital cancer ward. While some of her colleagues take a dispassionate, "just the facts, ma'am" approach to their work, the author takes great care in describing this particular shift. She shows superhuman forbearance of her patients' quirks and the immense demands on her limited time, and she explains that the constant requests by patients are usually defense mechanisms to combat their vulnerability and lack of control over their particular maladies. Throughout the book, Brown doesn’t provide wasted or unnecessary details. She is thorough, yet her prose moves swiftly, often reflecting the rapid pace of her shift. She effectively conveys the great burden—and uncertainty—of the critical decision-making doctors require of her and how she sometimes, agonizingly, second-guesses herself. Readers will share Brown's frustration when she laments how constant "CYA [cover-your-ass] charting" (the procedural entering of all the minutiae of patients' developments every time they are seen) takes nurses away from talking, and listening, to their critically ill patients. "Patient care…is heart and soul,” writes the author, “but these days, charting pulls nurses away from the bedside more and more….I do understand why such thoroughness matters legally, but I sometimes wonder if sadists designed our [computer charting] software. It should not be easier to order a sweatshirt from Lands End than to chart on my patients, but it is.” Throughout this engrossing book, Brown demonstrates that while nurses can appear even-tempered and certain in their decisions, they are usually harried and always working feverishly.

An empathetic and absorbing narrative as riveting as a TV drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61620-320-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


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...


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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