WITNESS TO AN EXTREME CENTURY

A MEMOIR

A memoir by a courageous psychiatrist and National Book Award winner whose life's work has been the study of why fundamentally decent individuals commit evil acts.

In 1958, after serving in Japan as a military psychiatrist, Lifton (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School; Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World, 2003; etc.) had the opportunity to interview American servicemen captured during the Korean war by the Chinese, who "had managed, at least temporarily, to gain considerable control over [their] minds.” In his discussions with the soldiers, and with missionaries and Chinese intellectuals who had fled the mainland and were living in Hong Kong, the author recognized that at another level, this same thought-control process that had been inflicted upon the entire Chinese population over decades. This was the subject of his first book and became the catalyst for a shift in his life from his intended career as a Freudian psychoanalyst to becoming what he calls a "psychohistorical researcher"—part of the informal but influential group of social scientists that included Erik Erikson and David Riesman. Lifton writes that it was his work with Hiroshima survivors that "was the shock that permanently changed [his] way of relating to the world." It became his prism for judging "conflicts between nations and groups, political violence of any kind, and even psychological struggles of individual people.” It also informed his studies of the participation of German doctors in the extermination of Jews in concentration camps, the My Lai massacre of civilians by U.S. troops in Vietnam and the more recent examples of the use of torture by U.S. soldiers against enemy combatants—all of which exemplify how average people can be led by circumstance to commit atrocities. A call for a moral awakening by a deeply compassionate chronicler of our times.

 

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9076-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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