Fans of conspiracy theories will find this a source of endless fascination.

CHAOS

CHARLES MANSON, THE CIA, AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SIXTIES

Who put Charlie and the Family up to their murderous mischief? This long excursus on the killings that terrified Los Angeles 50 years ago suggests some unlikely answers.

How did it happen that a bunch of peace freaks turned into a band of homicidal maniacs? In this overlong but provocative barrage, freelance journalist O’Neill charts a series of conjectures that begins with famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and ends in the dark chambers of the intelligence community. The logic goes something like this: It’s useful to control people’s minds, but it’s difficult to accomplish if they’re sane. If they’re a little off balance, needy, and disaffected, though, then give them a charismatic leader and some chores, and voilà—and along the way, if LSD is involved, then you can serve up an object lesson about the dangers of drugs. O’Neill’s thesis has its possibilities, but, like Oliver Stone’s JFK—and the Kennedy assassination figures here—it’s not so much that he ventures a theory as that he ventures all of them: The FBI wanted to whip up racial division to divide the New Left from the Black Panthers, Manson was an agent provocateur, record producer and Hollywood insider Terry Melcher had a hand in the whole thing, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson was a silent partner. And then there was Roman Polanski and his weird proclivities—as O’Neill writes, “remember how Susan Atkins wrote the word ‘Pig’ on the front door of Cielo Drive, in Sharon Tate’s blood?” But what if she really wrote something else? It’s all too much. Among the best aspects of the book are the author’s confessions of the many dead ends and blank spots he encountered, as when he confronted Bugliosi with the suggestion that he knew more than he was letting on and in fact covered up some of the evidence. “It was the wrong move,” he writes. “I’d intended to build to this moment, and now I was leading with it, giving him every reason to take a contentious tone.”

Fans of conspiracy theories will find this a source of endless fascination.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-47755-0

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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