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The People in the Trees

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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  • Posted November 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Passable but not for everyone Have you ever read a book with pr

    Passable but not for everyone

    Have you ever read a book with protagonist that you both hate and want to like at the same time? This is one of those books. The People in the Trees, which is loosely based on a true story, is about a Nobel prize winning scientist who discovers the key to immortality and, in the process, changes the lives of the inhabitants of a small island. In the decades following his breakthrough discovery, he adopts 40+ children from the small island from which the key to immorality rests, and in the end his goodwill proves to be his undoing.

    Reading about scientists is a tricky thing. On the one hand, I hated the main character, Norton, for his treatment of lab animals and the people he discovered on the small island. He had no qualms with tying humans to trees or killing lab animals. But on the other hand, I don’t think he’s a malicious man, but rather that he is emotionally distant, incredibly rational (think Temperance Brennan from Bones), and absolutely brilliant. I also had to keep reminding myself that the book took place in the 1950′s, which was before they had rules in place for how to treat human subjects. It doesn’t make his actions right, but it does make them more understandable, under the circumstances.

    As for whether or not I would recommend this book, I’m torn. If you’re a science buff or interested in undiscovered civilizations, then I say go for it. It is a great lesson in cultural relativism and the longterm effects of upsetting a natural environment. But if you’re looking for a heartwarming story, then this one isn’t for you. It’s steeped in reality and reality isn’t always pretty.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2013

    Puzzling biography

    Although the story progresses with great detail over a relatively long period of time, it is not a tedious or slow read. The detail results in sympathy for the teller(s) and curiosity regarding the purpose of telling the story. Many times I atually looked up the references.
    I was riveted and read the book in two days. Having finished reading, I miss it, which has always indicated to me that I have enjoyed a well-written, good, read.
    The ending is not terribly surprising. It is, however, a grusome veification of earlier hints.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventu

    This is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventures in the fictional islands of U'ivu, the research that developed from his time there, his ethical breaches, awkward social relationships, and unsettling personal life. This book begs the question...

    "If a great man does unspeakable things, is he still a great man?"

    This book is loosely drawn fromt he life of Nobel laureate Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 for his work on the infectious brain disease kuru, which was prevalent among the South Fore people of New Guinea, and who was later convicted of child molestation in 1996.

    Norton was something of a scientific misfit, not respected among his peers, young and inexperienced. Then one day he is sent to the remote Micronesian country of U'ivu, for what reason he does not know. He soon discovers that he is to assist anthropologist Paul Tallent, who is searching for a mysterious tribe that lives on Ivu'ivu, the most remote of the islands of U'ivu.

    While on the island, they discover this "forgotten" tribe of U'ivuans on the island of Ivu'ivu who appear to have abnormally long lifespans that are triple the norm or longer, living 200 or 300 years or more. And Norton theorizes that their long life is connected to their ingestion of a certain turtle. However the same individuals who live extraordinarily long lives are also lost to a serious mental degradation that leaves them stumbling around with severe cases of a condition resembling Alzheimer's.

    This book follows Norton over the decades, shifting from his childhood to his professional life, and then ending on a more personal note.

    Considering that this novel is written in the form of a memoir, you have to give the fictional character of Norton Perina credit for his honesty. He is unabashed, as a child, in his frank exposure of himself, his thoughts and motivations. He is unapologetic. Well, occasionally he makes excuses, blaming everyone but himself. Other times he accepts responsibility for events, but doesn't really apologize for them. He is simply stating the way it was.

    Later on Norton begins adopting children from the islands of U'ivu, as things there begin to degrade. Eventually he adopts a total of something like 40 children, offering them a chance at a better life.

    My final word: I found this story to be intriguing, and it kept me wondering how it would all play out. However I found it did read something like the scientific memoir it was presented as. None of the characters are especially likable, but the story keeps pulling you along, dying to know how this will all play out. By the end of the story, as you are welcomed into Norton's personal life, you find yourself squirming in your seat, sort of uncomfortable in your own skin, almost physically cringing. Was it a fun read? No. At moments it could be touching or beautiful, but often it was awkward, uncomfortable, disturbing and a little stiff. But it was also fascinating, peculiar, and felt almost "profound". I really enjoyed it, despite being left with a bad aftertaste. It's an unsettling story, but read it anyway.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2013

    What a fantastic book.  Highly recommended.

    What a fantastic book.  Highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

    Intense, beautiful, surprising twist

    Does remind me somewhat of a Kingsolver. Wow! you will noy want to put this book down and it will be a while before i stop pondering some of the issues it raises. Have not read such a powerful novel in some time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014


    Fascinating read! Interesting writing style. Made more so because the book is based on a true story.

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