If you had asked me before I read King David, how familiar I was with all the Biblical David stories, I would have told you I knew them all. After all...moreIf you had asked me before I read King David, how familiar I was with all the Biblical David stories, I would have told you I knew them all. After all, having been raised on daily bible study, as a fundamentalist christian, who read propaganda religious literature for entertainment, I'm certain I've read through the books of I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, and I Chronicles, II Chronicles maybe a dozen times in entirety, and who knows how many times in selection.
Naturally, fundamentalists get many of their ideas and attitudes from the Old Testament, no matter how they give lip service to being bound only by the words of Christ in the New Testament. (New Covenant, Fulfillment of the Law, and all that rubbish.) The fact is, King David features most prominently in their Old Testament dogma, and some of the fundamentalists refer to Christ as the Greater David, tying more sacrosanct lore from Davidic mythology to Messianic prophecy.
If you had asked me, I would have told you that I was aware of all the cherry-picking that the leaders in my faith had done to present just a mesmerizing person of loyalty and fealty to God.
Kirsch's book was a champ for me, because he sets the narrative in its proper time-frame, supported by what we actually know about the history of circa-1000 BCE, against all the things we don't know about David. In fact, there is almost no archaeological support for the life of David and his court. What little there has been dug up, (in some of the most sifted soil in the entire world,) is speculative at best. What we know about David comes exclusively through the pages of the Old Testament – a document that – once examined with clear eyes – is seen to be more legend than chronicle.
This makes David no less fascinating as a possibly historical individual. He certainly deserves mythological status. No story of Hercules can best the legends of David – who appears to be a marauding mercenary with royalist ambitions, a man of great charisma and passion, who was able to manipulate such fanatical support from Israelite and non-Israelite that he may have shaped the course of a real nation. Mixed in with political intrigue, conquests and treason, are very human stories of passion and excess, indulgence of favored children, pragmatism, and even David's possible interfaith – a concept that is most assuredly glossed over by most Bible literalist christians, who would have one believe that David was ever-faithful only to Yahweh.
Kirsch does a splendid job of crafting the many and contradictory stories of David into a comprehensible whole. He deftly credits mainstream and lesser known biblical historians' ideas regarding authorship of the many sections that speak of David, and lets us know why it matters, by briefly linking David to the Christ-narrative, and modern day emphasis on the search for proof of Biblical veracity.
I loved this book.
Although I have long ago left behind my fundamentalist roots, I have retained a deep and abiding fascination with the mythology of the Bible, and the degree to which its influence reaches out to so many aspects of life in this country. And yet, the vast majority of us know only what we've been spoon fed by a man standing at a podium, lecturing us on Sunday mornings about faith, purity, and the Vengeance of the Lord. How many of us ever take the time to examine those born-in, osmotic “truths” we accept so easily?
This is why examinations like this have great value, they challenge our perceptions and knock on the door to the closets of deeply held beliefs.
4.5 stars: 5 for being fascinating and engaging, 4 for occasionally being as speculative as the source material itself. (less)
I've started and erased my little book commentary so many times because this story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I'm not sur...moreI've started and erased my little book commentary so many times because this story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I'm not sure anything I could say about it would do justice to the complexity and dichotomy of the story surrounding Henrietta Lacks. It might not be far from the truth to state that she was the most important person who ever lived. A physical part of her body has saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives, and improved the lives of countless others. And her story is not over yet. Her cells are still being used in medical research all over the world. But these benefits came at the cost of a violation of her rights, in a time when it was commonplace for doctors and researchers to just do and take, without consent, especially among poor populations and people of color.
Some of the things done with Henrietta's cells saved lives, some were heinous experiments performed on people who had no idea what was being done to them, in a grotesquely distorted and amplified reflection of what was done to Henrietta. Nuremberg was dismissed in the United States as something that only applied to the fallen Nazi's. Any act was justifiable in the name of science. And yet, some of the things done right her in our own nation were reminiscent of the research being conducted under the direction of the notorious Dr. Mengele.
Reading certain parts of this book, I found myself holding my breath in horror at some of the ideas conjured by medical practioners in the name of “research.” Of course, we know.* Anyone who is even moderately informed on this nation's medical history knows about the Tuskegee trials, MK Ultra, flu and hepatitis research on the disabled and incarcerated, radiation exposure experiments on hospital patients, and cancer, cancer, cancer. The poor, disabled and people of color in this country, the “land of the free,” have been subjected to so many cancer experiments, it defies belief. Many of these trials, including some devised of Henrietta's cells, have involved injecting cancer, non-consensually, into human subjects.
So while it is true that there can be utterly no doubt that our lives, and the lives of much of the world, are better, because of the knowledge made possible by parts of Henrietta Lacks's body, still acknowledgment of this reality comes at the cost of knowing that procedures were performed on her without her knowledge or understanding, and without her consent, with impunity; these actions were made even easier because she was poor, black and female, and this is to say nothing of the numerous and unethical violations of her (and her children's) privacy. It's an old story.
It's a story that her biographer, Rebecca Skloot, handles with grace and compassion. Henrietta is not some medical spectacle, she was a real woman. If she has been deified by her friends and family since her death, it is maybe the homage that she deserves, not for her cells, but for her vibrance, kindness, and the tragedy of a mother who died much too young.
There are a great many scientific and historical facts presented in this book, facts that I couldn't possibly vet for veracity, but the science seems sound, if simplistic, and the history is presented in a conversational way, that is easy to read, and uninterrupted by footnotes and references. Family recollections are presented in storyteller fashion, which makes for easy and compelling reading. Fact-checking is made easy by a list of references, presented in chapter-by-chapter appendices.
Rarely do I read something that makes me want to collar strangers in the street and tell them, “You MUST read this book,” but this is one of those times. Henrietta's story is bigger than medical research, and cures for polio, and the human genome, and Nuremberg. Henrietta's story is about basic human rights, and autonomy, and love. It's about knowledge and power, how it's human nature to find a way to justify even the worst things we can devise in the name of the greater good, and how we turn our science into a god.
This story is bigger than Rebecca Skloot's book. But I am grateful that she wrote it, and thankful to have read it. Would the story have changed had Henrietta been given the opportunity to give her informed consent? That's the thread of mystery which runs through the entire story, the answer to which we can never know.
*documentation in this list is inconsistent, but most of these experiments can be independently verified.(less)
So much less about a book thief, than about one journalist's decisions to ignore ethics and honesty for the sake of getting her “interesting story.” T...moreSo much less about a book thief, than about one journalist's decisions to ignore ethics and honesty for the sake of getting her “interesting story.” The writer deliberately turns a blind eye to Gilkey's thefts, keeps her mouth shut so he won't get busted for thievery, lest she lose her story. She even consults with an attorney friend to find out exactly what the line is where she MUST report his activities or risk arrest as an accessory. She whitewashes the actions of an amoral identity and credit card thief, and justifies her lack of action when she knows of crimes, all the while referring to this criminal as a "book lover."
Bookseller Ken Sanders says this about Gilkey: “He's a dirty little book thief and there's nothing romantic about it. There's nothing noble about him. He might have a passion for books but his passion is for thievery. As far as I'm concerned, he's the man who loved to steal books too much." (Source: NPR) (The audio story is worth a listen.)
It's worth noting that, while an image of Bartlett's “Book Lover” book appears next to the article, Sanders never refers to the book in his article, and he makes it clear that he doesn't appreciate the transmogrification of Gilkey's thievery, into “love” for books.
Many of the victims, mostly small “mom and pop” type booksellers and collectors, have never recovered their property, and each loss represents real financial hardship, a point which is glossed over repeatedly in this account.
What started out as an interesting account of the world of obsessive book collecting, became an unintentional revealing of the writer's lack of integrity. I have utterly no sympathy for Gilkey (who is apparently at it again,) but at least one can comfortably brand him a criminal, and hope the likes of Ken Sanders, the ABAA, Detective Ken Munson, and others, will finally succeed in recovering the stolen property and perhaps getting him locked up for good. For writer Bartlett, I have nothing but contempt, and wish I hadn't read this piece of garbage-masquerading as journalism, and especially wish I hadn't any part in her profits. (less)