BURNSIDE

A workmanlike biography of the amiable Union general that unconvincingly argues that Burnside's poor military reputation was largely an undeserved product of vicious military gossip and his own naive humility. Marvel, author of two scholarly Civil War military histories, points out that Burnside, exercising independent command over small numbers of soldiers, enjoyed some important successes—for instance, his spectacular 1862 victory on the North Carolina shore, which cut off Confederate trade routes, and his 1863 defense of Knoxville, which contributed to the destruction of Bragg's army at Chattanooga. Marvel also persuasively argues that McClellan in the Antietam campaign, and Halleck during the battles of Fredericksburg and Chickamauga, unfairly castigated Burnside for lethargy, confused him by making deliberately unclear orders, and unjustly used him as a scapegoat for Union defeats. Burnside's mistakes were probably no worse than those of other Union generals—his costly frontal assaults at Fredericksburg, for example, were reminiscent of Grant's unsuccessful charges at Vicksburg and Cold Harbor. Nonetheless, Marvel cannot absolve Burnside of responsibility for the Fredericksburg disaster or for the sanguinary 1864 debacle at the Crater. Moreover, Burnside showed considerable hamhandedness in his actions as chief of the Department of Ohio (for instance, his arrest of the notorious Copperhead Clement Vallandigham for making an anti-Government speech presented the Lincoln Administration with a potentially embarrassing dilemma that Lincoln cleverly averted by sending Vallandigham across Confederate lines into the South). Marvel succeeds in portraying Burnside as an honest, patriotic, and likable man who conscientiously did his best. He does not, however, succeed in altering history's judgment of Burnside as a modest man with much to be modest about. A well-researched and thorough look at one of the Civil War's major figures. (Twenty-nine illustrations; 13 maps.)

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 1991

ISBN: 0-8078-1983-2

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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