IR Approved Author David Sklar: “ATLAS OF MEN asks us to consider how much control we have over the decisions that will guide our life.” 

Atlas of Men received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author David Sklar.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

The book is titled Atlas of Men and was published  October 16, 2018.

What’s the book’s first line?

The first line is “This research project landed in my arms like a small child I once caught off the top of a high slide while walking in the park.”

What’s the book about?

The book is about five young men coming of age at an elite New England prep school who unknowingly participate in a research study to identify those students who are most promising for future leadership based upon an analysis of their physical characteristics from nude photographs. The surfacing of study years later sets in motion a series of events to unravel the meaning of the study and results in the disclosure of secrets that threaten the relationships of the men to each other and their school. The book asks us to consider how much control we have over the decisions that will guide our life.  The story was inspired by an actual research study experienced by the author as a 15 year old.

What inspired you to write the book? 

I have been thinking about the meaning of the nude photographs for some time, but after I did some research into what had happened I realized that the use of somatotyping to classify myself and my classmates was a metaphor for a larger more insidious and pervasive attitude about class, race, identity prevalent among the leadership of the school as to the characteristics of the ideal prep school student. I decided to create fictional characters who could describe various perspectives starting with the question, “What if those photographs and files suddenly showed up on the doorsteps of one of characters?” As I was writing the story more information about sexual relationships between teachers and students appeared, and confirmed some of the hints of such relationships and how they might have been connected to the photographs leading my story down some unexpected paths. I felt that telling this story would be a way of opening a dialogue about the need for protection of human research subjects, particularly children.

What’s the main reason that someone should read this book?

I think it is important to understand why we have protections for human subjects of research. Unfortunately there is a long history of abuse of human subjects in research and this book provides another example of how such abuse occurs and how to prevent it. Unfortunately those given the authority to protect children do not always understand the safety needs of the children. The book also explores the identities we create and how fragile they can be in an environment in which there is a preferred identity for a successful student.  How can we protect and nurture the identities and development of those who do not fit the mold, those who are disabled, poor, racial or ethnic minorities, or gay. The classification of people into somatotypes was one way to make judgments about identities that was meant to be scientific although it did not follow recognized scientific methods or review. The fact that our colleges and prep schools bought into this faulty thinking is a cautionary tale. I would also encourage readers who like mysteries, dramatic plot twists and unique characters to read the book for the entertaining ride it provides.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who real or fictional would you say the character reminds you of?  

The main character is initially cautious and curious and afraid to be vulnerable, but changes over time. Initially he is a bit of a Clark Kent type character. While he never becomes Superman he does rise to oppose the evil around him.

If they made the book into a movie, who would I like to see play the main character?

I think I would need two actors. One for the young main character and one for the older version. Timothée Chalamet would be great as the young main character. He seems able to a play a range of characters and was great in Call Me by Your Name. For the older version maybe Keanu Reeve with a bit less muscle and testosterone than some of his past movies.

When did I decide to become an author?

I probably first thought about it in high school. I always enjoyed writing.  I would write short vignettes related to medicine early in my medical career but have become more interested in longer fiction and other forms of narrative over the last 20 years.

I wrote another book that was a memoir about medicine in a village in Mexico before I started medical school called La Clinica. That book had short chapters that provided self -contained stories that eventually connected in some surprising ways.

What do I do for work when I am not writing?

I am an emergency physician and mostly teach medical students and residents in the emergency department when I am working there.  However, most of my time now is spent as  editor of a medical journal.  I read about 2000 manuscripts every year and write monthly editorials based upon topics related to medical education, communications, professionalism, humanities and  health policy. I also teach undergraduate and graduate students at Arizona State University.

Which writer do I admire? 

John Irving.  I love the characters he creates and how he mixes humor and drama.  He attended prep school at Exeter as I did and we were both wrestlers there. He worked hard to become a great writer and wrestler, and by his own admission may not have been the most talented at either but was willing to work harder than others. He is a great role model for those of us who don’t get it right the first time but persevere.  He was kind enough to speak with me about my book  this past year and was very encouraging and generous with his time.

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