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

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THE LIE DETECTORS

THE HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN OBSESSION

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...

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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