The Education of an American Terrorist
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Sprawling cultural history attempts to link the Unabomber’s crimes to his educational background.

“What effects did Harvard have on [Ted] Kaczynski?” asks environmentalist Chase (In a Dark Wood, 1995, etc.), who, like his subject, attended Harvard in the 1950s, felt alienated from the institution during tumultuous times, and later sought solitude in rural Montana. The author focuses on Kaczynski’s undergraduate participation in an “ethically questionable” psychological experiment conducted by renowned behavioral expert Henry Murray during the last years of his covert Cold War research. To Chase, Murray epitomizes the postwar science establishment in his collusion with the federal government on morally compromised projects such as the CIA’s notorious hallucinogen tests, which drew on Murray’s personality theories. The author sees the young Kaczynski—smart, socially maladjusted, in flight from an oppressive family life—as an embodiment of the ’50s “Silent Generation,” seething with rage beneath a conformist veneer. Chase argues that Kaczynski’s part in Murray’s experiment, which by most accounts involved extensive verbal abuse and trickery, may have provoked his eventual homicidal obsessions. Thanks to his unfortunate Harvard experiences (grinds like Kaczynski were ostracized by the preppy students) and the ’50s “culture of despair,” which directly informed his Unabomber “manifesto,” Kaczynski was radicalized well before his graduate study at Berkeley in the late ’60s, asserts the author. Indeed, he already planned to move somewhere rural and begin a campaign of vengeance. Chase is a solid if sometimes dour writer, and does thorough work here, including actual correspondence with the cantankerous Kaczynski. Readers of his previous, highly controversial environmental writings will not be surprised by his contention that, although mainstream academia shunned Kaczynski’s manifesto, its ideas actually presage the coming of a new generation of eco-radicals. While his broad view of educational and psychiatric transformations during the ’50s and ’60s is provocative, some may feel he strays too far from his purported target, the enigmatic, murderous Kaczynski.

Worthy examination of our “smartest” serial killer.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-393-02002-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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