Scholars will deplore the dearth of documentation, but general readers will delight in this tale of a randy rapscallion who...

A VOYAGE ROUND JOHN MORTIMER

THE BIOGRAPHY OF THE CREATOR OF RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY

An authorized biography of the peripatetic, priapic and enormously prolific octogenarian who still rises at dawn to the pages of blank foolscap he fills with astonishing speed and craft.

British journalist Grove (Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger, 1999, etc.) gained Mortimer’s permission to interview him continually, to peruse his papers and to interview his intimates. She was there to celebrate with him when he learned in 2004 that he had a son, born to actress Wendy Craig in 1961. No mere book can contain the titanic Sir John. His professional life seems preternaturally productive: myriad pieces of journalism and scripts for theater, TV, cinema and radio as well as novels. (Grove summarizes some of the fiction, though she says oddly little about the hugely successful Rumpole series.) Oh, and until 1983 he appeared regularly in court to argue legal cases, favoring issues of free speech and often representing those charged with pornography. The list of his writings runs to five pages (only one less than the extremely skimpy endnotes). His sex life has been nearly as prodigious. (He even made a move—sort of—on his biographer.) A serial adulterer, Mortimer wed twice. First wife Penelope was a gifted novelist in her own right, best known for The Pumpkin Eater (1962). They were divorced in 1971, and four months later he married the much younger Penny, who has remained to help him through the indignities of his 80s, making possible much of his continuing creative life. Grove explores Mortimer’s childhood as the son of a noted legal scholar (subject of his play A Voyage Round My Father), education at Harrow and Oxford (where he had sexual attractions to other lads), beginnings as a writer and transformation into rumpled Sir John, an icon in contemporary English culture.

Scholars will deplore the dearth of documentation, but general readers will delight in this tale of a randy rapscallion who found time between dalliances to create some enduringly popular works of fiction and drama.

Pub Date: June 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01880-2

Page Count: 542

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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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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