A fine, engrossing portrait of mental illness and healing.

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SOOTHING

LIVES OF A CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST

A psychologist looks back on his struggles to quiet the seething minds of his patients—and his own—in this debut memoir. 

Miller, a child and family therapist and founder of UCLA’s Parent Training Clinic, takes as his central task the “soothing” of psyches agitated by anxiety, shame, compulsions, and the unfulfillable expectations of parents and society and brings to bear two sources of insight into that process. The first is his own dysfunctional family history with an unstable father plagued by nervous breakdowns and a resilient but sometimes-cold mother. Out of that stew came the author’s own compulsive talkativeness and crippling stage fright when speaking to large audiences, a blend of neuroses he spent much of his life battling. The second is his trove of reminiscences of his patients. Miller’s case studies run the gamut: a young girl who hatches a new phobia whenever he cures the last one; a man in his 70s who obsessively buys CDs he never listens to; a bright, socially awkward teen with Asperger’s who fantasizes about mayhem and skulks on the roof with his dad’s rifle; and a female psychologist who comes to him for treatment, then leaves a note on his wife’s car ordering her to “stay the hell away from my therapist!” They also include a baseball player trying to get his batting average back to .300 and a young man slipping into paranoid schizophrenia who gets yanked from therapy by his parents, with tragic results. Miller writes with a nice balance of subtle, searching analysis and warm empathy that vividly evokes psychic pain and embarrassment—especially his own—while teasing out the convoluted mechanisms behind them. (Of one patient who threw a fit when a leaf fell off the author’s office ficus plant, he writes, “All she needed to recover from hellish abandonment was for her words to be accepted just as spoken with no judgment…to have her very existence acknowledged.”) It’s fascinating to watch as he improvises strategies to resolve his patients’ problems through everything from traditional talk therapy to breathing exercises and a technique called EMDR that involves slowly tapping the patient’s hands to unearth buried childhood traumas. The result is a revealing, humane, down-to-earth look at the day-to-day art of clinical psychology that should give many readers insights into their own problems.

A fine, engrossing portrait of mental illness and healing.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5245-4631-1

Page Count: 263

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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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