A chilling account of a livelihood spent curating the criminally psychotic.

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BEHIND THE GATES OF GOMORRAH

A YEAR WITH THE CRIMINALLY INSANE

Board-certified psychiatrist Seager (Street Crazy: America's Mental Health Tragedy, 2000, etc.) recounts his 12 harrowing months at Northern California’s Napa State Hospital.

As a newcomer to the psychiatric facility, the author was immediately immersed in the drastic severity of the psychotic patients housed in “Unit C,” a compound with security rivaling that of San Quentin prison. After being assaulted within minutes, Seager began reconsidering his job decision, especially after learning that the unit’s previous psychiatrist was put in a coma after being attacked. Dubbed “Gomorrah,” the hospital ward soon lived up to its moniker as a house of violence not readily obvious from its manicured grounds. The author chronicles months of daily, terrifying patient interactions, which tested not only his personal fortitude, but his professionalism as a mental health caregiver. Though all had murder on their rap sheets, the scariest of Unit C’s 40 residents was hulking, unpredictable Bill McCoy, whom everyone feared most yet wouldn’t be policed for his in-house extortion due to the circuitous nature of the prison system (he’d only end up back at Napa State). Some patients wore paper Zorro masks and smeared feces on themselves, while others hid makeshift distillery contraptions in their closets or sold fermented fruit cocktail as prison alcohol; the remainder were a manageably maniacal lot with short tempers. Special events like Halloween proved bizarre; Thanksgiving dinners were somber, with minimal visitors (many residents had killed their own families). Though relentlessly unsettling and grim, there are spots of levity. Seager’s descriptions can be darkly humorous: On a particularly bad day, the author became “engulfed in a wave of hungry psychopaths eagerly churning their way to the cafeteria.” In the final chapter, the author urges citizens to become proactive in enacting legislation to change how state hospitals are run, thus increasing their safety quotients and those of the communities they serve.

A chilling account of a livelihood spent curating the criminally psychotic.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1476774497

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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