After wrapping up Sookie Stackhouse series, author Charlaine Harris set to pen another series
By Jamie Stengle
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The final book in Charlaine Harris' best-selling series about telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse provoked such an outcry that some fans sent death threats and curses.
But after spending the last 15 years writing about the intrepid small-town Southern girl whose adventures have featured a host of supernatural beings, Harris says she has no regrets.
"I had to be true to my own vision for the books otherwise, what kind of writer am I? Not a very good one," said Harris, adding that fan reaction to the end of the series was distressing.
Harris said she knew it was time to end the Sookie books, which inspired the hit HBO series "True Blood," when she wasn't approaching each new addition with excitement.
"And I thought, 'You know, this is the time to end it, when I still have something to say.'"
She released her final nod to Stackhouse and her world this week with "After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse," an illustrated book that lists the myriad of characters that appeared in the 13-book series and tells readers what happens in the ensuing years.
But, Harris says, don't expect any revisions. "I wrote the ending the way I wrote it and I'm not going to change it."
The uproar over her "Dead Ever After" started when an online review appeared about two weeks before its official May release date. (A reviewer obtained a copy from a German bookseller.)
"I thought I had two more weeks to brace for it, but I didn't, and it was just overwhelmingly awful," said Harris, 61.
The most vehement were angry that Stackhouse didn't end up with the vampire Eric. Harris said she'd been steering readers to that eventuality.
"Not only is who she ends up with not the point of the books, but I said all along: 'She loves the sun. She doesn't want to just be able to go out at night,'" Harris said.
"And I said in every interview I gave when someone would ask me: 'Sookie will never be a vampire.' And still: shock, horror, amazement, accusations that I'd sold out. I thought, 'If I would have sold out I would have written the ending you wanted.'"
Ginjer Buchanan, editor-in-chief of Ace Books, which published the series, said it was a credit to the books that fans were so passionate. "What wasn't good was that they just went totally overboard," she said.
But as fall approached, Harris said the reaction calmed. And she even got some apologies.
Harris published her first book in 1981. After years of writing conventional mysteries, she wanted to try something different, something supernatural.
It took two years to sell the first Stackhouse book, but it wasn't long after "Dead Until Dark" was released in 2001 that Harris knew she had a hit.
Buchanan said it was published at a time when urban fantasy was becoming popular. And, she said, Harris set herself apart by basing the series in the fictional town of Bon Temps, La.
"This is a series that once readers found it they were fans for life," said Kaite Stover, director of readers' services for the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri. "Charlaine Harris actually crafted in that first book a wonderful blend of romance, women's fiction, Southern humor and urban fantasy."
Harris' next series is set in Texas. She and her husband settled into the countryside outside Fort Worth about two years ago after living in Arkansas for about two decades. So far she's signed for three books in the series.
Stover predicts that those fans upset by the ending of the Sookie series will be happy.
"They will remember when the new book comes out what they love about Charlaine Harris," she said.
"Midnight Crossroad," to be released in May, is about "a mystical crossroad in a little dead Texas town," Harris said. "It's at an old town that's partly derelict but there are a few homes and businesses still in use there. A town called Midnight. And there is a reason the people who live there are living there."
"I didn't really intend it to be as supernatural as it's turning out to be. It's like I just can't help myself."
Will there be vampires?
"Well, there might be one vampire," she said, eyes twinkling.
Science-fiction author's thoughts on world events, private life, published by The Strand Magazine
By Hillel Italie
NEW YORK (AP) — As Nazi Germany grew ever more dangerous in the 1930s and the Japanese threatened China, science fiction author H.G. Wells wrote up some thoughts about real-life horrors and in 1937 submitted them to a magazine with the widest possible audience, Reader's Digest.
"Democracies need not merely freedom to think and talk, but universal information and vigorous mental training," warned the author of "The War of the Worlds," ''The Time Machine" and other classics.
"Consider China today. An ignorant peaceful population has as much chance of survival now as a blind cow in a jungle."
The British author was known worldwide, but his message was apparently too strong for the conservative magazine, which never published the brief essay. Its debut in print comes more than 75 years later, in the holiday edition of The Strand Magazine, which has rediscovered obscure works by Mark Twain, Joseph Heller and many others.
"He had a very good relationship with them," Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli says of Reader's Digest, "and they occasionally even reprinted his stuff. But this article about democracy seemed to have rankled them."
The Strand's latest publication, which comes out Friday, also features a private letter by Wells that he wrote in 1935. Gulli found the materials among thousands of papers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Wells was a socialist and often a pacifist whose fears for the planet's fate were well developed in his fiction. But Gulli says the Reader's Digest piece was an unusually strong nonfiction work, a direct call for action that anticipated the current debate about "failed states" in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"Wells was progressive in his views. He belonged to a generation of ardent imperialists, yet his belief was that the great powers should grant their colonies self-determination," Gulli says. "His fear, I think, was that many of these Third World countries would fall prey to demagogues and militia and clerics."
In his article for Reader's Digest, Wells finds that too many countries are "half-literate" and "wholly undisciplined." Democracies should build up their militaries, Wells recommends, but he insists that education is the best weapon.
"The choice is a plain one now," he concludes. "Train yourself for freedom or salute and march."
Wells was a prolific writer and tireless thinker, well demonstrated by his 1935 letter. He writes of a day that begins at 4 a.m.; includes revisions of a book about how "human hope and effort are frustrated"; preparations for a radio broadcast about the evolutionist T.H. Huxley; and several hours of work on a dystopian film he was writing, "Things to Come," that eventually starred Ralph Richardson and Raymond Massey.
That night, the 69-year-old author dined with a Russian friend.
"And we argued about freedom of thought and expression," Wells wrote, "with more particular references to Russia, until it was time to go to bed."
Fans hope for answers to questions left unfulfilled after 17 years after 'Sandman' conclusion
By Matt Moore
Some questions remain unanswered for what may seem lifetimes. In "The Sandman Overture" writer Neil Gaiman hopes to answer at least one that has puzzled fans for more than two decades: How could Sandman have been captured so easily to begin with?
It was Sandman's ensnarement that saw Gaiman launch his telling of the DC Entertainment character for Vertigo Comics in 1988, a move that pushed him, the character and the publisher into a new level of storytelling and sales, with collected editions quickly becoming best-sellers.
"You had people, like Norman Mailer, describing it as a comic for intellectuals; bless him," Gaiman said.
"Sandman" has remained a critical darling and fan favorite, though it's been 17 years since the book concluded what Gaiman dubbed its "75-issue limited series" run.
Now, said Gaiman, it's time to provide answers of sort as the first issue of a six-part limited series — illustrated by artist J.H. Williams III — begins its year-long run Wednesday, with "moments" he's been "looking forward to writing for 25 years."
It could be likened to riding a bicycle again after a long time away.
Gaiman said it wasn't hard to get back on the bicycle, but now there's a huge audience. Imagine, he said, "if the first time you learned to bicycle and had ridden your bicycle around it was just you," and then "gradually a few people went 'Look, I really like the way he rides the bicycle.'"
"It was a small, organic phenomenon, but over the years your bicycle riding had become kind of legendary. Now, you're in a world in which 25 million people are going 'Oh my god, he's getting back on the bicycle!' There's a little bit of worrying how wobbly your bicycle riding is going to be."
So far, the bike is on a smooth path.
The scope of the storytelling is galactic, even otherworldly in its scope and reach, a testament that Gaiman's story was aimed to give Williams a sprawling canvas for whom pages are vistas of verdant and concussive forces of color, emotion and energy.
Rich Johnston, a writer of comics and chronicler of the industry, noted on his website Bleeding Cool that Gaiman "has written for the strengths of the artist and in 'Sandman Overture' that means drawing the impossible, a flower that resembles Morpheus, dreams within dreams, and a quadruple page spread that opens up, portraying every aspect of Dream across the universe."
Gaiman said the return has been a reunion of sorts, too. Dave McKean, an artist from the first run, is providing alternate covers and letterer Todd Klein is back for the series, too.
"I'm enormously proud that I think the characters feel like the characters, the story feels like the story and I think J.H. Williams' art is probably the finest I have ever seen in a mainstream periodical comic," he said.
Moore reported from Philadelphia. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/mattmooreap
Acclaimed author discusses his latest bestseller 'The Longest Ride'
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nicholas Sparks, best-known for telling poignant love stories through his novels and their adaptations to film, has written another book, "The Longest Ride," which shot straight onto the U.S. bestsellers list.
"The Longest Ride" chronicles two relationships in parallel - one that is emerging while the other is completed. Like "The Notebook," "Message in Bottle," and "Safe Haven," his latest novel is slated for the big screen with a nationwide release planned for Valentine's Day weekend 2015.
Sparks spoke to Reuters about the book, bull riding and storytelling through text and film.
Reuters: Did you intend to write dual stories at the novel's outset?
Nicholas Sparks: For "The Longest Ride," I knew what I wanted the final two chapters to be. I knew the twists that I wanted to have happen and how it would unfold. I knew how I wanted readers to feel when they closed the pages. If this is the end, how do I get there? At that point, I engage in a process of trying ideas in my mind and work backwards. There are going to be two stories to pull off the ending that I want.
I wrote the story of Ira and Ruth first, about 150 pages broken into seven sections of 20 pages each. Then I set it aside on the desktop of my computer. Then I wrote the story of Luke and Sophia, up to the point where the two stories intersect. Then I wrote through the end. I had the two earlier sections and put the novel together ... Happily, there was no editing involved in the transitions.
One of the characters, Luke, is involved in bull riding. Do you have experience riding a bull?
I have been to rodeos and am one of those people who watches bull riding on (cable channel) TNT. My sister, who passed away, used to live on a ranch. The ranch in the novel is based on that. Her husband, Bob, had been in rodeos ...
I supplemented this with a great deal of reading. I probably read eight books on rodeo in general, some stretching back to the 1980s, because I wanted to get Luke and his father's story right. I also watched numerous YouTube videos on bull rides. You add all that together to create a world that feels real - real enough that the Professional Bull Riders said it was the most accurate portrayal of bull riding in any novel or film that they have ever seen.
Art becomes an important part of the characters' lives. Do you collect art personally?
I have some art, but I am a hobbyist. I would not consider myself an expert but in the course of writing this novel I became very familiar with the various movements in American Modern Art from 1900 onwards.
What should readers take away from your latest novel?
I want characters to have voices that feel authentic, unique, honest, fresh and original - all at once. Part of that authenticity is evoking genuine emotion across life - the sadness, passion, love, sense of loss, missed opportunities, and confusion even. All of this helps us realize that our choices do impact the lives that we eventually lead.
Given that a number of your novels have become films, what do you think about other forms of media as you write your novels?
When I am in the process of conceiving a story, I make sure it can be told with words and pictures. The story has to be creative, original and interesting in both areas. Many stories get rejected because they feel derivative.
However, once I have a story that meets criteria for both mediums, from the moment I start writing, I only think about the novel. At that point there is no guarantee that the story will ever become a film but it will be a novel.
I consider myself foremost a novelist with the intent of crafting stories that people will remember.
Review: 'Johnny Carson' -- an inside peek into the TV host's life and the business of staying on top
By Henry Bushkin
Hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned.
"You must never, ever repeat a word from last night," Johnny Carson told Henry Bushkin after sobering up from a barstool confessional. Bushkin gave a lawyerly assurance to "The Tonight Show" host, saying in part, "I would lose my license if during your lifetime I repeated it to a soul."
Maybe Carson's head hurt too much to catch that little caveat. Had he noticed the words "in your lifetime," the entertainer might not have been so keen on hiring a 27-year-old lawyer who likely would outlive him and might one day reveal his personal and professional blemishes.
Is Bushkin's writing about his famously private client an act of betrayal tinged with revenge? Carson did fire him after nearly two decades of devoted service.
Putting that matter aside, few books like "Johnny Carson" have been more engrossing. It's not just a juicy peek inside a celebrity's life from the view of a hanger-on. Bushkin's memoir is also a well-written corporate tale that reveals the tough business of staying America's favorite late-night host, full of stories of money, sex and skullduggery, peppered with plenty of laughs.
Bushkin began handling Carson's affairs in 1970. Carson needed additional legal advice on how to execute a pre-emptive strike on his second wife (there would be two more). Bushkin writes that he proved himself by joining Carson, who was armed with a .38-caliber handgun, and a few others in a raid on the love nest shared by Mrs. Carson and athlete turned sportscaster Frank Gifford. Packing heat didn't protect Carson's emotions: He wept when he realized that he was indeed losing another wife.
Not that Carson had to worry about being lonely just being careful. Sometime around 1970 his skirt-chasing earned him a beating from a mobster's entourage and a contract on his life. Bushkin says some high-level talks allowed Carson to walk the streets of New York again without fear of being killed for hitting on the wrong guy's girl.
Family and finances were sore spots for Carson. His mercilessly cool mother remained unfazed and unappreciative of his incredible success. He had his own problems relating to his three boys. When son Rick landed in a mental hospital for two weeks, Bushkin writes, Carson refused to drive across town to visit. Pleading that the publicity would not be good for either Carson, he sent Bushkin instead.
In Bushkin's telling, Carson was too trusting of managers and other financial advisers, making him an easy victim of bad deals. He had other weaknesses, too. Mrs. Carson 3.0 was willing to sign a prenuptial agreement designed to protect Carson's fortune. But he balked at the last minute, saying it was a terrible way to start a marriage. "This romantic gesture," his lawyer says, "would cost Johnny $35 million."
Bushkin's memoir adds shading and detail to the portrait of Carson already established. The master of the talk-show medium was often uncomfortable with individuals. In the right mood, he could be witty, generous and fun to be around and, in a flash, turn cruel and cold. Late-night TV's naughty Midwesterner was also a roving husband, unpredictable when drunk, a four-pack-a-day smoker prone to obscenity-laden rants. When he drove a car he usually carried a handgun for protection, the book says.
Carson fired Bushkin over a business matter, the lawyer says, and litigation ensued. All these years later Bushkin seems torn between reveling in their friendship and taking an opportunity to get even. He tries to absolve himself of wielding a literary dagger by imagining that Carson, who he says was suspicious of flattery and sentimentality, would have been happy with this book because it's accurate.
Imagine instead that self-serving statement in the hands of one of Carson's late-night characters, Carnac the Magnificent. The envelope he tears open might well reveal this answer: "Fat chance."
As the third and final book 'Allegiant' hits the shelves, Roth anticipates her next move
CHICAGO (AP) -- For a series that has sold 5 million copies and is poised to become a major motion picture franchise, Veronica Roth's "Divergent" had humble beginnings.
"I wrote the first one in my jammies in my parents' house as a senior in college," said Roth, 25. "I didn't really know if it would go anywhere, but I thought it was worth a shot."
The third and final book, "Allegiant," comes out Tuesday, ending the dystopian series that follows heroine Tris through a walled-off Chicago where 16-year-olds must be tested and choose between joining one of society's five factions. Come Monday night, Harry Potter-style midnight release parties are planned across the country. The Hollywood version of "Divergent," starring Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley, will be released in March.
After the first book sold, Roth said the publisher told her they were interested in the larger series.
"I was like, 'Great! I have one for you and I have ideas,'" she said during a lunch interview at a Chicago pub. She submitted outlines for what would become "Insurgent," the second book, and "Allegiant."
She promises fans a clear resolution for Tris in "Allegiant," but she's not spilling any spoilers. (Even though a handful of copies shipped early, prompting Roth to warn fans on her blog to "be very wary" of what they read online.)
"I don't want to ruin it for anyone," she said.
But Roth did offer some context, saying fans should be prepared to delve into Tris' consciousness.
"It's a little bit of a different kind of book than the first two," Roth said. "It's a little less action-heavy, a little more cerebral in Tris' mind."
Roth wrote the third book at her apartment on Chicago's North Side and in a nearby coffee shop. She attended Northwestern University, where she studied creative writing with teacher Brian Bouldrey. He said Roth's honors project was a story about a girl searching for her father at a Christian heavy metal concert.
Roth quickly showed herself to be a writer who understood plot and managing multiple characters to keep readers involved in a story.
"Veronica is an example of somebody who, really, all she needed was somebody to bounce this stuff off of and permission to take risks," Bouldrey said. He credits Roth for being part of the dystopian fiction trend that includes series like "The Hunger Games."
Roth said dystopian stories are attractive because they reach in two different directions.
"You're interested in the forward rest of the narrative, but you're also interested in the backstory," Roth said. "How did the world get to be this way?"
And it's no accident that the main character in her book is a heroine, like Katniss in "The Hunger Games." Roth said she started writing the book from the perspective of Four, the main male character, but it wasn't as compelling.
"When I started writing it from (Tris') perspective it was so much more surprising and so much more interesting," she said. "As I wrote the series all of the prominent and most interesting characters I created, with the exception of Four, were women."
Roth loves that boys aren't afraid to read stories with lead characters who are girls. But she said she thinks teens are attracted to dystopian books because of the relevance the characters have in those worlds.
"The characters in these dystopian books tend to have a lot of agency and even though they're young have an extraordinary, sometimes unbelievable, amount of control and influence in the worlds that they live in, which I think is a powerful thing for a teenager to read," Roth said. "It's a difficult time."
The formula has added up to mega-success. It doesn't seem to faze Roth, who said she didn't see it coming.
"How do you predict that?" she said. "It seemed impossible."
It may even mean screen time for Roth, who fans could spot as an extra when "Divergent" debuts. The movie filmed over the summer in Chicago and Roth was on set at least once a week.
"I kind of just hung out and watched and ate Fruit Roll-Ups," Roth said, emphasizing that she wasn't pushy with filmmakers.
"Sometimes I'd help with especially setting up the movie, so that it leaves room for the third book," she said. "Because at that time only I knew what was going to happen."
She still is just one of a few who knows how "Allegiant" plays out. But the ending of Tris' story marks a new beginning for Roth.
"I think I'm going to take a little break and just kind of play around with some ideas," she said. "I do love writing for teens, so I don't see that changing anytime soon."
Bouldrey said he expects Roth to try something new.
"I feel like she's smart enough and advanced enough that she might use that success to take some chances," he said.
And while fans will start the last chapter of "Divergent" world on Tuesday, Roth said it will be sad to start letting go.
"It's been a part of my life for so long and such a huge life-changing part of it too," Roth said. "But I don't know, I'm excited kind of what comes next and kind of what characters and worlds are out there."
By Hillel Italie
STOCKHOLM (AP) — If there were a literary prize higher than the Nobel, Alice Munro would probably win that, too.
"Among writers, her name is spoken in hushed tones," fellow Canadian author Margaret Atwood once wrote. "She's the kind of writer about whom it is often said — no matter how well known she becomes — that she ought to be better known."
Munro, 82, was cited by Nobel judges Thursday as a thorough but forgiving chronicler of the human spirit, and her selection marks a couple of breakthroughs among prize winners. She is the first Canadian writer to receive the $1.2 million award from the Swedish Academy since Saul Bellow, who left for the U.S. as a boy and won in 1976, and the first laureate ever to be fully identified with Canada. She is also the rare author to win because of her short fiction.
"I think my stories have gotten around quite remarkably for short stories, and I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something that you played around with until you'd got a novel written," she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Her books having sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. alone, she has long been an international ambassador for the short story, proof that the narrative arc and depth of characterization we expect from a novel can be realized in just 30-40 pages. Critics and peers have praised her in every way a writer can be praised: the precision of her language; the perfection of detail; the surprise and logic of her storytelling; the graceful, seamless shifts of moods; the intimacy with every shade of human behavior.
Her stories are usually set in Ontario, her home province. Among her best known is "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," the story of a woman who begins losing her memory and agrees with her husband that she should be placed in a nursing home. Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley adapted the story into the 2006 film "Away from Her," starring Julie Christie.
The narrative begins in a relatively tender, traditional mood. But we soon learn that the husband has been unfaithful in the past and didn't always regret it — "What he felt was mainly a gigantic increase in well-being." The wife, meanwhile, has fallen for a man at the nursing home.
In the story "Dimensions," Munro introduces us to a chambermaid named Doree, who needs to take three buses for a visit to a "facility" outside of Clinton, Ontario. Munro explains that Doree is happy in her work, that she has been told she is "young and decent looking" and that her picture once was in the newspaper, in the days when her spiked blonde hair was wavy and brown.
"Dimensions" begins in close-up, then steadily pulls back. With every page, the story darkens, and terrifies. The "facility" is an institution where Doree's husband, Lloyd, is held. Doree's picture was in the paper because her husband murdered their children.
"In all the time since what had happened, any thought of the children had been something to get rid of, pull out immediately like a knife in the throat," Munro writes.
Before winning the Nobel, she won a National Book Critics Circle prize for "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage." She is also a three-time winner of the Governor General's prize, Canada's highest literary honor. Any further awards will likely be honorary. She told Canada's National Post in June that she was "probably not going to write anymore."
Starting in the 1960s, when she was first published, she has often contrasted her youth in Wingham, a conservative Canadian town west of Toronto, and her life after the social revolution of the '60s. Munro herself lived out the fears, and celebrated the liberation, of the educated housewives in Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique."
In an interview with AP in 2003, she described the '60s as "wonderful." It was "because, having been born in 1931, I was a little old, but not too old, and women like me after a couple of years were wearing miniskirts and prancing around," she said.
Munro, the daughter of a fox farmer and a teacher, was born Alice Anne Laidlaw. She was a literary person in a nonliterary town, concealing her ambition like a forbidden passion.
She received a scholarship to study at the University of Western Ontario, majoring in journalism, and was still an undergraduate when she sold a story to CBC radio in Canada. She dropped out of college to marry a fellow student, James Munro, had three children and became a full-time housewife. By her early 30s, she was so confined, so frightened and depressed, that she could barely write a full sentence.
Her good fortune was to open a bookstore with her husband, in 1963. Stimulated by everything from the conversation of adults to simply filling out invoices, her narrative talents resurfaced but her marriage collapsed. Her first collection, "Dance of the Happy Shades," came out in 1968 and won the Governor's prize.
At least in her work, Munro is among the least politicized of Nobel winners, who in recent years have included Mario Vargas Llosa and Doris Lessing. In 2003, she told the AP she was not inspired by current events, but instead by memories, anecdotes, gossip. The stories themselves have few topical references or famous names.
"I don't do a lot of indicators where you can tell what time it is, because that would impinge on me too much. Somebody writing about now would have to have Iraq in it. They need to have the right music and right celebrities and right style of clothes," she said.
"In ordinary life I am a fairly active, political person. I have opinions and join clubs. But I always want to see what happens with people underneath; it interests me more."
The 2013 Nobel announcements continue Friday with the Nobel Peace Prize, followed by
the economics prize on Monday. The awards will be handed to the winners on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
Rising contributed from Stockholm and Italie from New York. Associated Press writer Karl Ritter also contributed to this report from Stockholm.
Review: New Malcolm Gladwell book explores nontraditional sources of strength
By Rasha Madkour
Here are some facts to chew on: About one in three highly successful entrepreneurs — including the founders of JetBlue, Charles Schwab and Kinkos — is dyslexic.
Two-thirds of British prime ministers at the peak of the empire, and almost a third of all U.S. presidents, lost a parent when they were children.
These are among the arguments for unexpected sources of strength that Malcolm Gladwell explores in his new book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants."
Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker whose previous books include "Blink," ''The Tipping Point" and "Outliers," has made it his specialty to challenge assumptions and conventional wisdom.
In "David and Goliath," Gladwell argues that sometimes what we think of as disadvantages can work in our favor. He puts this theory to test with stories of an underdog girls' basketball team that makes it to the nationals; various school class-size experiments; and the Big Fish-Little Pond Effect (in short: your little genius is better off at a regular university than at an Ivy League school).
One of the most famous trial lawyers in the country — who argued in front of the Supreme Court for Bush vs. Gore, the Microsoft antitrust case and the overturning of California's ban on same-sex marriage — is David Boies, who has dyslexia. To get around his difficulty with reading, he developed extremely good listening skills and a formidable memory, Gladwell writes.
There are, of course, plenty of people who lost a parent when they were young, or who have dyslexia, "who are crushed by what they have been through," Gladwell acknowledges. "There are times and places, however, when all of us depend on people who have been hardened by their experiences."
One of the book's most memorable characters is Emil "Jay" Freireich, a volcanic, intimidating physician — fired seven times throughout his career — who played a pivotal role in the treatment of childhood leukemia. Gladwell, after taking readers through Freireich's tragic early years, notes: "He experimented on children. He took them through pain no human being should ever have to go through. And he did it in no small part because he understood from his own childhood experience that it is possible to emerge from even the darkest hell healed and restored."
The book fizzles out in its final section, which reads more like a history book and is devoid of the sharp commentary and compelling observations that make the earlier sections such a pleasure to read. Still, the weak ending doesn't erase the many dinner-conversation takeaways a reader finds in Gladwell's latest attempt to make us look beyond the surface.