For those drawn to the dark side of human experience (and equipped with strong stomachs), morbidly fascinating stuff and an...

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AFTERMATH, INC.

CLEANING UP AFTER CSI GOES HOME

After a grisly crime scene has been investigated by a small army of detectives, coroners and CSIs, who cleans up the mess?

Journalist Reavill (Smut, 2005, etc.) answers that intriguing, if rather disturbing, question. He spent a number of months with the crew of Aftermath, a “bioremediation” service established in a moment of entrepreneurial inspiration by friends Tim Reifsteck and Chris Wilson, who happened upon a gruesome murder scene and asked themselves that very question. The answer, at that point, was: sometimes concerned church groups, but usually the bereaved family members of the deceased. Reifsteck and Wilson saw an opportunity to create a market while helping people, and Aftermath was born. Reavill actually worked alongside Aftermath teams cleaning up after murders, suicides and “unattended deaths”—isolated elderly people who often go days or weeks before their corpses are discovered. The technical aspects of Aftermath’s work—how do you get blood out of subflooring? What becomes of the “biomatter” (a hauntingly clinical term) that remains after the body has been removed? What are the hazards of working with human tissues and fluids that have been violently splattered over walls, rugs, furniture?—are simultaneously fascinating, disgusting and subtly disturbing, as living people with all of their eccentricities and passions and regrets are reduced to a thorny waste-removal problem. Reavill’s metaphysical musings on this last point seem rather pro forma, but he presents the hard-to-take information skillfully and with grace, and he offers a sober appraisal of the nature of violent crime. Tangents on Chicago’s unbelievably violent history, the legacy of serial killers in the popular imagination and the history of forensic science provide compelling and welcome digressions from the overwhelmingly grim business of Aftermath.

For those drawn to the dark side of human experience (and equipped with strong stomachs), morbidly fascinating stuff and an essential addition to any True Crime reader’s library.

Pub Date: May 17, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-592-40296-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

LICENSED TO LIE

EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

A former Justice Department lawyer, who now devotes her private practice to federal appeals, dissects some of the most politically contentious prosecutions of the last 15 years.

Powell assembles a stunning argument for the old adage, “nothing succeeds like failure,” as she traces the careers of a group of prosecutors who were part of the Enron Task Force. The Supreme Court overturned their most dramatic court victories, and some were even accused of systematic prosecutorial misconduct. Yet former task force members such as Kathryn Ruemmler, Matthew Friedrich and Andrew Weissman continued to climb upward through the ranks and currently hold high positions in the Justice Department, FBI and even the White House. Powell took up the appeal of a Merrill Lynch employee who was convicted in one of the subsidiary Enron cases, fighting for six years to clear his name. The pattern of abuse she found was repeated in other cases brought by the task force. Prosecutors of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen pieced together parts of different statutes to concoct a crime and eliminated criminal intent from the jury instructions, which required the Supreme Court to reverse the Andersen conviction 9-0; the company was forcibly closed with the loss of 85,000 jobs. In the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a key witness was intimidated into presenting false testimony, and as in the Merrill Lynch case, the prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, a violation of due process under the Supreme court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision. Stevens’ conviction, which led to a narrow loss in his 2008 re-election campaign and impacted the majority makeup of the Senate, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back; the presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate abuses. Confronted with the need to clean house as he came into office, writes Powell, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to take action.

The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61254-149-5

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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