Quaintly detailed, if frustrating, Americana, with glimpses of Big Brother ever lurking in the background.



Genesis and evolution of the polygraph, a spurious device that remains a pillar of US law enforcement and national security even though it doesn’t work—except when it does.

Alder (History/Northwestern Univ.), who received great acclaim for his history of the metric system (The Measure of All Things, 2002), meticulously traces the early fascination surrounding the supposed science—but mostly art—of identifying intentional deception. John Larson, a psychologist patterning his work after William Marston, a Harvard professor who noted blood-pressure changes correlated to intentional lying in research subjects, teamed in the early 1920s with legendary Berkeley police chief August Vollmer to bring polygraphic techniques to law enforcement. Larson’s initial foray, an attempt to solve a series of thefts at a local sorority house, was immediately beset with the ambiguities and shortcomings that have since plagued automated lie detection: “Larson unmasked midnight poker games,” Alder notes, “petty shoplifters, pregnancies, and attempted abortions, often without solving the original crime itself.” What followed as Larson, with his young protégé, tinkerer Leonarde Keeler, and Vollmer gravitated toward larger venues of crime in Los Angeles and Chicago, were decades of abuse of a technology that remains a uniquely American article of faith. One often repeated FBI ploy is calling in a suspect to inform him he failed his polygraph test from the day before—true or not—to elicit a confession. Yet Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling and O.J. Simpson both hired polygraphists to produce a record—Skilling liked his and published it; O.J. was reportedly not thrilled with his. And in today’s heightened atmosphere of terror threats, the CIA teaches the same agents who administer polygraph tests how to beat them. The essential contradiction persists: Most courts don’t accept polygraph test results as formal evidence, yet to refuse one (everybody’s right by law) is inevitably seen as an admission of guilt.

Quaintly detailed, if frustrating, Americana, with glimpses of Big Brother ever lurking in the background.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-7432-5988-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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


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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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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