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

MADNESS

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

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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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