A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation.

PATIENT H.M.

A STORY OF MEMORY, MADNESS, AND FAMILY SECRETS

Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King in a piercing study of one of psychiatric medicine’s darker hours.

Well known for recent takedowns of psychic charlatans, Esquire contributing editor Dittrich expands a feature story there to point an accusing finger at the old practices of lobotomy, electroshock, and other supposed therapies for mental illness. His accusation lands squarely on his own grandfather, a pioneer in the use of surgery to treat mental illness. “None would perform as many lobotomies as Freeman,” he writes of another leading doctor of the day, “who was as prolific as he was passionate. My grandfather, however, would come in a close second.” The problem was, no one in that day was sure why cutting into the frontal lobes had the effects it did or, indeed, how the brain really ticked. Dittrich’s story begins and ends, in frightening, graphic detail, with an unfortunate young boy who suffered an injury to his brain, which “sloshed forward in its watery womb, pushing up against the thin membrane of the pia mater and the thicker membranes of the arachnoid and dura mater, its weight compressing them all until it crashed against the unyielding barrier of his skull.” Surgery did not help; indeed, medical intervention played a role in what would become a textbook case of amnesia, made all the more tragic because the patient could not form new memories and could not remember who his aging mother was except against the index of the long-ago picture he held of her as a young woman, part of the “eternal limbo to which my grandfather’s operation had sentenced him.” Dittrich’s riveting tale turns up numerous other surprises, including a battle among academic giants over the ownership of the poor patient’s brain and a skeleton in the family closet involving, almost literally, a mad woman in the attic. Though long, there’s not a wasted word in the book, which should make readers glad we live in the age of Prozac and not the scalpel.

A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9273-1

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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