4 out of 4 stars
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The author, William H. Coles, begins McDowell with a dramatic description of a fearsome storm in the Himalayas and the survival of the book's protagonist, Dr. Hiram McDowell. The character of Dr. McDowell is quickly established as a man who seeks challenges and especially likes to climb high mountains. He is a practicing surgeon and president of the board of the prestigious International Society of Surgery. He also is committed to medical research and is a principal investigator of a clinical medical research project. In addition, he oversees a foundation and hospital he established to provide care for the indigent in Nepal. This leaves little time to devote to his third wife and his children from his first two marriages.
When Dr. McDowell is considered for a cabinet post as Director of Health and Human Services, his life is scrutinized. An investigative reporter, Paige Sterling, is assigned to create a television special focusing on Hiram's accomplishments. In the process, she finds discrepancies in his foundation's finances and concerns about the scientific data used as a basis for clinical trials in McDowell's research. At the same time, members of his family encounter significant problems, and he takes decisive action which changes his life dramatically. He is faced with challenges that dwarf the rigors of climbing dangerous mountains. Part Two of the book describes Hiram's attempts at self-reflection and the people who encourage him in this effort.
One of the things I liked most about the book is the way the author uses dialogue to tell the story. The dialogue conveys both straightforward and nuanced information about the characters. For example, when Hiram's daughter Sophie accuses him of abandoning her as a child, she says, "You're not like most people." This comment presents an accurate and insightful description of Dr. McDowell. It aids the reader in understanding both his strengths and his weaknesses.
I also liked the descriptions of life in Nepal. Sophie is a professional photographer and the book presents the scenes she captures of festivals, funerals, and the condition of women. Sophie's relationship with Paige is an interesting component of the last part of the book. It is complicated because Dr. McDowell views Paige as his nemesis. However, Paige befriends Sophie. Sophie is skeptical of Paige's intentions, but she appreciates Paige's advice as a woman in the business world. Since Sophie's mother is dead, Paige seems to be both a mentor and a substitute mother. As they share their perspectives on Hiram, it adds context for the reader and highlights some of the perplexing aspects of his character.
One thing I disliked about the book was the lack of background material relative to Dr. McDowell's childhood, education and young adult life. This would help the reader understand his detachment in relationships. The book is well edited. I believe McDowell would appeal to a wide range of readers. I read the book over a period of a few days because it held my interest, and the ending was definitely not predictable. I would rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
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