Stiles digs deep to deliver genuine insight into a man who never adapted to modernity. The author confirms, but perhaps...

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

CUSTER'S TRIALS

A LIFE ON THE FRONTIER OF A NEW AMERICA

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Stiles (The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, 2009, etc.) gives a warts-and-all portrait of Gen. George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), giving full rein to both his admirers and critics.

Custer graduated at the bottom of his West Point class in 1861 with the most demerits of any of the students. Only the demerits foreshadowed the brilliant tactician’s future. In the first half of the book, the author provides an excellent chronicle of Civil War battles and the politics of war. Custer’s undisputed prowess as a cavalry officer in the war fed his ambitions. He gained a place on George McClellan’s staff that would prove especially deleterious. His flamboyance, velvet uniform, and slouching hat might have made him a laughingstock, but his ability was real and his courage, sincere. His knowledge of tactics and ability to read his environment gained him promotions and celebrity. He led from the front, but he was incapable of management. His postwar assignments in Texas and Kansas brought out the cruel, tyrannical man who abused and humiliated his men. His published writings chronicle his fascination with natural history, but they provided little income. He dabbled in the railroads and a silver mine venture, and he gambled on stock speculation. Stiles ably points out his many defining flaws: his heroic style didn’t work in an era of tact and skill, and there is no doubt that he was self-serving, generally assuming that rules weren’t made for him and never showing remorse. In addition to examining Custer’s life, the author also introduces his cook, the fascinating Eliza Brown, an escaped slave who deserves a biography of her own.

Stiles digs deep to deliver genuine insight into a man who never adapted to modernity. The author confirms, but perhaps excuses, the worldview of the “boy general with the golden locks.”

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-59264-4

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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

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  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

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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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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