This is an amazing read. Winner of numerous awards and top book lists, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks masterfully weaves three stories in one: tThis is an amazing read. Winner of numerous awards and top book lists, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks masterfully weaves three stories in one: that of HeLa cells, the first cells grown successfully and indefinitely in a lab environment; that of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman and the originator of the cervical cancer cells that gave birth to HeLa, and the family she left behind; and that of Rebecca Skloot and her journey to discover the woman behind the cells and the family behind the woman.
HeLa is one of if not the most important scientific breakthroughs of modern medicine. HeLa's commercialization gave life to a billion dollar industry, while Henrietta's family couldn't even afford proper healthcare. Her husband and children didn't even know about Henrietta's immortal cells for twenty years. And, when they did find out, they still didn't know what it meant -- were clones of their mother really walking around London? Had it hurt when parts of her were blown up in an atomic bomb?
Through this biography of Henrietta and her cells, Immortal Life sheds light on the gradual progress of bioethics. (Besides the cancer treatment of Henrietta's day, the gross ethical misconduct of the medical research industry, particularly when it came to racial minorities, is one of the most shocking elements of the book.) But where to strike the balance? If one pioneering scientist hadn't taken Henrietta's amazing cells (without consent), we probably would not now have the polio or HPV vaccines, we would not know the number of chromosomes in a DNA strand, and our understanding of genetics and genetic diseases would be far far behind where it is today. ...more
Unbroken follows the story of Louie Zamperini, an olympic track runner who joined the ranks of the Army Air Force during World War II. Hillenbrand cleUnbroken follows the story of Louie Zamperini, an olympic track runner who joined the ranks of the Army Air Force during World War II. Hillenbrand clearly and expertly chronicles Zamperinis harrowing tale of survival after his airplane crashes in the middle of the Pacific as he drifts over thousands of miles of ocean in a life raft--hungry sharks dogging them at every opportunity--and at last washes up on the shores of a Pacific island only to fall into the hands of the Japanese.
This book covers many often neglected details of the war, primarily the incredible dangers of being in the air force at that time (where your airplane was more likely to crash because of mechanical failure than damage from enemy fire) and the brutal life of a Japanese Prisoner of War. And Hillenbrand brings it all together in a well-written, well-ordered, and cohesive tale that reads more like a fiction novel than a biography....more
Andrew Morton, in his unauthorized biography on actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, cuts right to the core of her neurosis. His primAndrew Morton, in his unauthorized biography on actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, cuts right to the core of her neurosis. His primary thesis is that Angelina does the things she does--hoards children, breaks up happy marriages/engagements/relationships, gets married and divorced seemingly dictated by whim, and is a very good actress--because of very early childhood trauma. When Angelina was about one year old, her mother--heartbroken due to her separation from Angie's father John Voight--banished baby Angelina to an empty, all-white apartment two floors above her own, and paid a revolving wheel of friends and out of work actors to feed and care for her. For that year, Angelina was in effect abandoned by her parents, in a white room holding only a white crib, and provided few toys or meaningful social interactions.
It's always interesting to get a sneak peak into an ultra famous person's life, finding out what really motivates them and what their life behind the scenes is really like. This biography certainly provides such insight into Angelina's life, though of course not the deep internal thoughts of an autobiography. One thing I didn't realize before reading this biography was how acclaimed and respected she is as an actress. Not being a big fan of hers, I haven't seen most of her movies. So I think of her primarily as an action movie star--not an acting heavyweight.
Morton's continued efforts to psychoanalyze Angelina throughout the biography grew quickly tiresome. He quoted numerous psychologists providing their take on the motivations behind Angelina's more self-destructive or mystifying actions. These assertions felt highly presumptuous. Morton even went so far as to say, at one point, that though Angelina herself didn't realize this was why, but here was the reason she was doing a certain thing....more
This biography was much more interesting than I expected. Isaacson describes the events of Jobs's life impartially but truthfully, without pulling anyThis biography was much more interesting than I expected. Isaacson describes the events of Jobs's life impartially but truthfully, without pulling any punches or holding back on praise when it's deserved. I was definitely drawn into the story of Jobs's life and found myself telling everyone around me anecdotes from the book and recommending it as a must read....more
I'm torn on whether I should rate this a four or a five. But I lean more toward a four just because of the depressing nature of the story. I wasn't toI'm torn on whether I should rate this a four or a five. But I lean more toward a four just because of the depressing nature of the story. I wasn't too happy after consuming the last 300 pages of this book all in one day.
In Zeitoun Eggers follows the accounts of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, upstanding New Orleans citizens who own a house-painting/repair contracting business, during and after Hurricane Katrina. Zeitoun remains in the city to watch over their house and their rental properties during the storm while Kathy takes the kids and heads to a relative's beyond the hurricane's reach. Following the hurricane itself, Zeitoun spends many days in New Orleans, paddling his canoe through a city turned lake while rescuing stranded citizens, feeding abandoned dogs, and calling his wife every day at noon on the only land line he's found still intact. Then, one day, he doesn't call. And so begins FEMA's horrendous response to the disaster. From misallocation of resources to violations of citizens' and basic human rights, Zeitoun's is a harrowing tale of what went wrong after Katrina....more
Lords of Finance explores the actions and decisions of the world's bankers of the time that eventually led to the Great Depression of 1929-1935+. ForLords of Finance explores the actions and decisions of the world's bankers of the time that eventually led to the Great Depression of 1929-1935+. For my part, I had no idea how large a role World War I played in the financial turmoil that eventually led to the GD. I learned more about World War I in this book (despite it supposedly being a book about events that happened a decade later), than I ever knew before. In fact, I felt the book was a bit misleading in implying a focus on the Great Depression and its causes. It would have been better marketed as a book about WWI and the financial aftermath thereto, that eventually led to the Great Depression.
I listened to Lords of Finance in audio, which made it palatable. But the information was often presented quite dryly, so that I don't think I would have even tried to make it through in print. Plus, the book is rather a beast, at almost 600 pages in hardback. The part I found most interesting was that about the U.S. stock market, leading up to the crash of 1929. It was one of the only times I felt like I was reading something relevant and relatable to me (as a U.S. citizen). Otherwise, Ahamed never quite managed to give me something to stand on in his narrative, to connect me to this world of a century ago. How did the contracting economy of Germany after the war affect its citizens daily lives? What does unchecked inflation mean for the mother running to the store to buy milk? He touches on some of these questions with the briefest and vaguest of explanations. But the whole book really would have benefited from the use of more personal accounts. I not only want to know about the bankers who caused this world-wide financial catastrophe. I also want to know how that catastrophe affected the world....more
This biography of the criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde was slow to begin and often frustrating to read, at first. It turns out B&C were, for the mostThis biography of the criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde was slow to begin and often frustrating to read, at first. It turns out B&C were, for the most part, terrible at what they did, blundering from one semi-botched hold-up job to the next.
The biography begins before that, though, going through the childhoods of Bonnie and Clyde and the economic backgrounds of their families--poverty was a big contributor to Clyde turning to a life of crime. As I already mentioned, the middle section lagged. Guinn goes through every single known hold-up. Many of which, particularly in the beginning, did not go very smoothly for Clyde and his "Barrow Gang." But intermixed between those frustrating failures were some very interesting tidbits about the pair. Clyde's time in prison for example, and the extraordinary measures he went to to get relocated to a less back-breaking labor camp. Also, Bonnie's poetry and the car accident that rendered her crippled for life. These are the kinds of things they don't mention in most of the movies and TV documentaries. The things, honestly, that make Bonnie and Clyde most interesting. The story really picked up in the end, too, as Guinn began setting up the inevitable demise of the pair.
Guinn makes a strong argument for why his biography is much more historically accurate than most of those that have preceded him, which he says were inundated with sensationalism and blatantly fictionalized dialogue and events. It intrigued me enough to consider reading some of these other materials, to see how the media can so skew reality as to make a pair of bumbling, two-bit crooks into one of the most wanted criminal gangs in the country....more