Very funny, and packed with oddities. If Ronson doesn’t manage to expose this official hall of mirrors entirely, he still...

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

British journalist (Them, 2001) and documentary filmmaker Ronson digs into the various psychic operations of the U.S. armed forces, from their origins in Vietnam to their uses today.

In 1979, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon created the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual, expressing the visionary position that soldiers of the future would, among other things, “fall in love with everyone, . . . bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, [and] calculate faster than a computer.” The Army, eager for a new kind of fighter, bought into it, and Ronson now traces the circuitous routes of men who have since attempted to bring the super-soldier into being. The writer’s sources are a mix of ranking military men and fringe characters attracted by the idea of psychic doings. Former U.S. Army Chief of Intelligence, Major General Albert Stubblebine III, who held his post in the early ’80s, recalls his frustrated efforts to get the Special Forces to adopt Channon’s strategies; Special Forces reps failed to disclose that they already had their own psychic division up and running. Stubblebine’s protégé in things psychic, Major Ed Dames, has long been a public face of PSYOPS (psychic operations), principally through his appearances on the same syndicated radio program whose reporting on the Hale-Bopp comet prompted the Heaven’s Gate cult members to kill themselves in the hopes of catching a ride. In his quest into the realms of the weird, Ronson has turned up any number of eerily credible tales: just for starters, there’s murder by the CIA; current torture schemes in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay (some involve playing Fleetwood Mac in prisoners’ cells), and a man who claims to be able to stop a hamster’s heart by staring at it.

Very funny, and packed with oddities. If Ronson doesn’t manage to expose this official hall of mirrors entirely, he still makes an admirable effort, entertaining and alarming in equal parts.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4192-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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