A fascinating and wildly informative dive into the mysterious world of death and decay.

THE EDUCATION OF A CORONER

LESSONS IN INVESTIGATING DEATH

Grisly true-life cases from the longtime career of a veteran coroner.

In his previous books, Bay Area writer Bateson (The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides, 2015) explored the act and aftermath of suicides. Here, he presents a profile of Ken Holmes, whom he’d met in 2010 after interviewing him for a book on Golden Gate bridge jumpers. Holmes spent nearly four decades working in the Marin County coroner’s office investigating not just suicides, but also countless unsolved homicides as well as natural, accidental, and undetermined deaths. Bateson reviewed 800 files in his research, and the cases he meticulously describes vividly represent Holmes’ long-standing tenure as a forensic professional. Each situation is riveting and complex. Holmes remarks that while a coroner’s purpose is to “find answers for the living,” it is the noncelebrity cases—he has handled the deaths of Jerry Garcia, Tupac Shakur, and the Trailside Killer, among others—that emerge as the most memorable, some drawn out over multiple decades. Through interviews, Bateson retraces the retired coroner’s history from his first homicide report through his years of learning the forensic skills of the trade; particularly compelling chapters focus on Holmes’ stint in San Quentin prison and the phenomenon of Golden Gate bridge suicides. Throughout the book, the author spotlights each gory detail with macabre precision. Holmes intimately describes the inescapable odor of a decaying corpse (“the odor stays with you for days no matter how many times you shower”), the processes of lividity, rigor mortis, and autopsies, the atrocities of child abuse, and the deadly consequences of autoerotic asphyxiation. These factual narratives magnify the work and the resolve necessary to bring closure to violent, unjust, suspicious, or unresolved deaths. They also make for supremely entertaining reading material for anyone with a dark curiosity in forensic science.

A fascinating and wildly informative dive into the mysterious world of death and decay.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6822-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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