An alternate view of America’s Vietnam experience from a worthy participant who left behind not bomb craters but chickens,...

Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer


A poultry specialist recalls a two-year tour in Vietnam in this unassuming memoir of a noncombatant who, in his own way, worked to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Debut author Hargreaves arrived in Vietnam in 1965 as a fresh-out-of college member of the International Voluntary Services, a precursor of the Peace Corps. “I didn’t come to Vietnam to fight a war,” he says. Instead, he used what he learned about avoiding the Ku Klux Klan as a voter registration volunteer in Mississippi a year earlier to avoid the Viet Cong in sometimes-dicey situations. Posted to Phan Rang, a provincial capital of 18,000 on the central coast, he witnessed over the next two years a massive buildup of American combat troops there and elsewhere that transformed cities and villages and turned too many children and their adult handlers into crafty beggars. He stayed as far away as he could from the war, which, to his regret, gradually undermined American aid and education programs of the preceding 12 years, preferring instead to talk about chickens with peasants over green coconut milk, help arrange pickups of military garbage for pig feed, or cultivate grapes. Villagers scoured military dumps for salvageable wood from napalm crates for building chicken houses. He describes this endeavor without so much as a whiff of irony or any words about the horrors of this flesh-burning, defoliating petroleum jelly. This is in keeping with a nonjudgmental narrative that frequently comes across like offhanded recollections told around a campfire. The flat tone and the triviality of some anecdotes tend to deprive the storytelling of deeper meaning. But Hargreaves is not without opinions or a sense of history. He notes that the United States might have done better in Vietnam by listening to and understanding its people, just as a good veterinarian learns to listen to the chickens. The author’s deep affection for Vietnam, and for its cuisine, reveals itself in his several aid-oriented visits to the country in the years since his tour.

An alternate view of America’s Vietnam experience from a worthy participant who left behind not bomb craters but chickens, pigs and grapes.  

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1458213501

Page Count: 108

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2014

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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 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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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