An exemplary biography, at once sympathetic and unsparing. Readers will admire Einstein’s greatness as a thinker, but they...

EINSTEIN

HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE

A comprehensive and marvelously readable life of the eminent scientist—and more, the eminent counter-culturalist, rebel, humanist and philanderer.

“A century after his great triumphs, we are still living in Einstein’s universe,” writes Aspen Institute president and former CNN head Isaacson (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, 2003, etc.), “one defined on the macro scale by his theory of relativity and on the micro by a quantum mechanics that has proven durable even as it remains disconcerting to some.” Brave enough to tread on such highly specialized ground, and working with newly available archival materials, Isaacson lucidly explains the finer points of Einstein’s theories. One, the general theory of relativity, had its birth, Isaacson writes, while Einstein was struggling to write an article on his special theory of relativity; sitting in his office in Bern, where he worked as a patent-examiner, he had the thought, “If a person falls freely, he will not feel his own weight”—“the happiest thought in my life,” Einstein recalled—but underlying it is some formidable work in physics and mathematics that took Einstein many subsequent years to express, and Isaacson acquits himself very well in taking readers along some strenuous paths of reasoning. Along with the science, Isaacson gives us an Einstein with whom it might have been fun to enjoy a stein of beer—unless you were married to him, a different story altogether, for by Isaacson’s account, Einstein was sufficiently sure of his own genius and the needs it entailed that he refused to be tied down by the ordinary rules applied to husbands and fathers. One daughter he even abandoned without a look back, but this was typical of his nonconformity, which, Isaacson writes, was characteristic of Einstein until the very end of his life.

An exemplary biography, at once sympathetic and unsparing. Readers will admire Einstein’s greatness as a thinker, but they will now know that he, like all other idols, had feet of clay. See Jürgen Neffe's Einstein (2007) for more on the subject.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-7432-6473-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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