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A MAN OVERCOMES THE TRAGIC AFTERMATH OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE

A scandal broke out a few years ago when American University president Berendzen was caught making sexually oriented phone calls to strangers. Here, Berendzen (Is My Armor Straight?, 1985) and Palmer (Shrapnel in the Heart, 1987) team up to tell the harrowing story of the academician's childhood sexual abuse—abuse that festered until its tragic eruption during middle age. Berendzen's mother first seduced the author when he was eight and continued until he was eleven, stopping for reasons as unspoken as her motivations for the abuse in the first place. Berendzen blocked the episodes from his consciousness and lost himself in work, becoming an astronomer, a professor at Harvard, and, finally, president of AU. Workaholism had destroyed his first marriage, but his second was happy and stable, as wife Gail worked with him to upgrade AU's image and put it on the road to financial prosperity; together, they became prominent on the Washington social scene. But, gradually, disturbing compulsions began to intrude upon Berendzen's carefully controlled life. He found himself making furtive phone calls to day-care providers who had advertised in Washington newspapers. He would quiz them about sexual activities with children and lead them on with confessions of his own invented exploits. The author never linked the calls to what he'd suffered, and, he says, never got sexual pleasure from them: He was trying to find out, in a confused way, what makes adults use children for such sick purposes. One woman decided to trap Berendzen and taped his calls: Exposed and forced to resign his position, he entered the John Hopkins clinic for sexual disorders and began to face his past. Berendzen's story of his recovery, his wife and daughter's steadfastness, his efforts on behalf of other abuse survivors, and his final forgiveness of his parents is told with honesty, eloquence and humility. An inspiring and compelling work. (Photographs—not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41777-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1993

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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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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