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MADNESS

IN THE TRENCHES OF AMERICA’S TROUBLED DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

A wise, unflinching memoir that candidly discusses an underappreciated segment of the American citizenry.

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Plate (Secret Police, 1981) recollects her profoundly challenging career as a social worker serving homeless and drug-addicted veterans. 

The author writes that she’d never planned to work with veterans; in fact, she took pride in being a “Red Diaper” baby who’d vehemently protested the Vietnam War as an adult. Nevertheless, after she earned a master’s degree in public policy and social work from the University of California, Los Angeles, she was assigned by a temp agency in 2002 to the West Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to work with homeless veterans who were struggling with substance abuse problems. It was a post that, in various iterations, she held for nearly 15 years, until 2017. Plate’s account skillfully combines personal memoir with institutional analysis; they strikingly dovetail when the dysfunctions of “America’s largest integrated healthcare system” compel her to become a witness to human suffering. She vividly recounts the grim challenges of working with a beleaguered population that was prone to violence and often desperate, alienated, and haunted by the trauma of war. She experienced sexual harassment—she notes that she was “fair (and easy) game” for the largely male group of patients—and was falsely accused of it, as well, she says. Despite these professional pitfalls, she found deep fulfillment in her work, and she movingly describes the experience in these pages: “For all the travails, I found an immeasurable richness in being of service to veterans,” she says. “Every day, I disappeared into the lives of others, blanketed by their anger and pain, unswervingly focused on getting veterans through the day, hidden deep within the barracks, away from civilian life.”

The author provides an astute account of various treatment strategies and their evolution over time as well as the impact of shifting public policy from one presidential administration to the next. She also incisively details how unempirical idealism can be the enemy of sound strategy, noting how “policy wonks in Washington” can be “divorced from reality.” In fact, she tells of how she grappled often with idealism herself—specifically, an unfounded conceit that she could always repair the damage done to her patients: “I would feel the urge to make him better—feed him, introduce him to friends….But feelings of this nature are unhealthy. They cloud your clinical objectivity. You have to be aware of them, then fight them off.” Plate focuses more on the “zany passion and persistence of social workers serving veterans” and on the “crushing pain but astounding resilience of veterans who come to them for help.” She affectingly relates the plights of many veterans who were struggling to keep their heads above water and how their number only increased as the nation simultaneously sustained two wars. Plate’s remembrance is as endearing as it is tough, offering a poignant but unsentimental look at an underserved group of Americans and the people trying to help them save themselves. 

A wise, unflinching memoir that candidly discusses an underappreciated segment of the American citizenry. 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-981-4841-86-3

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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