Lawson ably encompasses the life of this mysterious, many-sided author, from nymph to mother to crone.

MARY POPPINS, SHE WROTE

THE LIFE OF P.L. TRAVERS

Lawson (The Allens Affair, not reviewed) offers an intriguing, surprisingly rich literary life of the fairly obscure Australian author best known for her cheery children's series featuring nanny Mary Poppins.

The Disney film based on Travers’s well-loved flying English nanny was not made until 1963, 30 years after Mary Poppins was originally published. Here, Lawson uncovers Travers’s various disguises. Born in Maryborough (Queensland) in 1899, Helen Lyndon Goff absorbed fanciful stories and poetry told by her English-Irish father, a banker who drank heavily and was eventually demoted from bank manager to clerk. With his death, Travers fell under the supervision of her stalwart spinster aunt, Ellie, in Bowral (New South Wales), and our smart young heroine, known then as Pamela, eventually set out for Sydney with the short-lived plan of making her name as an actress. Travels to England and Ireland whetted her appetite for becoming a writer, and correspondence with George William Russell, “AE,” the older married editor of the Irish Statesman, had both romantic and literary implications. AE introduced her to Yeats and encouraged her to publish; her first stories about the Banks children and their dictatorial, magical nanny Mary Poppins first appeared in 1926. Travers traveled extensively as a journalist and seems to have latched onto older, powerful male figures all her life: Besides AE, there was Alfred Richard Orage, Armenian guru G.I. Gurdjieff and Irish critic Francis Macnamara. Travers wrote her many Mary Poppins adventures over the course of 54 years, with delicate drawings by Mary Shepard; with Disney's film adaptation, Travers became a rich woman, though not a famous one. Her adoption of a Dublin twin, Camillus, allowed her finally someone to “love and control,” and she settled comfortably into the role of New Age disciple. She died in 1996.

Lawson ably encompasses the life of this mysterious, many-sided author, from nymph to mother to crone.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-9816-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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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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