Gory surgeries, grisly autopsies, baffling ailments and the JFK assassination enliven these entertaining if sometimes icky medical memoirs.

McConnell is a professor of pathology who admits he dislikes doing autopsies, and as we read his slice-by-slice replays—“When I cut into her abdomen and an odious rush of feces spilled from the incision”—we can’t really blame him. His 50-year career landed him in plenty of scrapes outside of the morgue as well. A stint as an Army doc found him jumping out of airplanes, performing a circumcision on an uncooperative paratrooper and standing vigil over the casket of President Kennedy. (An assassination buff ever since, he offers tart commentary on the competence of the military pathologists who autopsied Kennedy and floats an intriguing alternative to the “magic bullet” theory.) There are vacations filled with impromptu consultations; on one Grand Canyon rafting expedition, he treats heat stroke, panic attacks and a bite to the butt by a rattlesnake. In a noir-ish vignette, he testifies in an abortion prosecution before a vaguely corrupt Mississippi courtroom. And there are many scenes of McConnell performing a doctor’s most basic task—struggling to figure out what’s ailing a patient, sometimes in the reflective quiet of the pathology lab, sometimes in the chaos of the emergency room. The author fills the book with absorbing medical procedural that presents medicine as an intellectual puzzle with its share of triumphant deduction and humiliating cluelessness. (One case, resolved only after umpteen lab tests and a home visit that reveals a tell-tale enema bottle, is a diagnostic mystery worthy of a House episode.) This is mainly a collection of vivid shaggy-dog stories, but there’s also an emotional resonance to McConnell’s reminiscences; as he wrestles with his patients’ suffering, he reveals that the physician’s anguish is also inherent in the art of healing. Engrossing in every sense.


Pub Date: July 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453845707

Page Count: 199

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner


A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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