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

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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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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