This book was problematic. Often engaging, occasionally funny, highly readable, but still problematic. Ms. Flanders never seems to come to a point. ShThis book was problematic. Often engaging, occasionally funny, highly readable, but still problematic. Ms. Flanders never seems to come to a point. She spends a long time discussing several different murders, but she usually does nothing with the facts of the various cases. The subtitle of the book states that Victorians "revelled in death and detection and created modern crime". All right. Revelling in death and (eventually) detection, granted, but "created modern crime"? She does not begin to make this case. If she wished to make the argument that they created modern crime fiction, she has the skeleton of that argument already assembled, though she hamstrings herself by refusing to discuss anything that came after the Victorian era. (If one wants to make an argument about how anything influenced modern anything, one needs to then discuss the modern things.) If she wished to make the argument that they created modern poilcing and detection, she comes extremely close to making that case, too. But those are not her arguments, according to the subtitle. The end of the book wraps with a long discussion of Jack the Ripper, and she seems to be trying to argue that he was a new class of criminal. He wasn't, of course. His kind are rare, but he wasn't the first. He simply caught the imagination of a culture already infatuated with murder, at a time when newspapers were likely to fabricate evidence. Forensic science was not yet advanced enough to determine which murders really were the Ripper, either, and so his attributed body count (variable, even according to Ms. Flanders) may not be even close to accurate. This is the only brush with the "modern crime" argument in the book. Moreover, the Ripper murders took place before some of the other murders discussed in other sections of the book. He was not the culmination of Victorian murder history that she seems to imply. There are other flaws in the book, too. Primary among them, for me, was the tone. The author's commentary is not always intrusive, but sometimes it is. Sometimes it's quite funny, but other times it's snarky for the sake of snark, and sometimes crosses the line right into ghoulish. (See the line about the "fall" that the unforunate, quite possibly innocent, Mr. Lipski was about to take.) Ms. Flanders would be better served by scaling back the sarcasm. The book is not bad. It moves quickly and it tells some interesting stories. Even without my particular fondness for old murder ballads, some of the literature, music, and performance art that came out of the (already longstanding by that point) Victorian murder obsession sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the book never quite rises to its task....more
The first half of this book is unreservedly hilarious and so bizarre as to seem incredible, as if everyone Ronson interviewed were putting him on. OnThe first half of this book is unreservedly hilarious and so bizarre as to seem incredible, as if everyone Ronson interviewed were putting him on. On the other hand, he seems credible; there are a few documents here and there that support his story, and when you disregard the facetious phrasing, the military looking into killing through mental means isn't all that far-fetched. The government has a long and storied history of turning to utter crackpots for inspiration, after all, and perfectly sensible police forces (not entirely an oxymoron) still consult psychics now and again in missing-persons cases. So, the mere oddity of the notion--and the people, for that matter--isn't enough to discredit it.
And, in the second half, when the book takes a much darker turn, it all seems more credible still. More... and less.
Ronson goes into detail about government programs that we know exist(ed)--MK-ULTRA and the systematic torture of prisoners in the War on Terror--but he loses the thread of rationality here and there by relying so much on speculation by people who sometimes seem other-than-rational themselves. There are things he writes--a great many things--that ring true. The military and civilian intelligence services taking what they could use of the New Age-y ideas of Jim Channon and disposing of all peaceful intent seems so logical that it's hard to disbelieve. The way First Earth Battalion ideas lend themselves to torture is obvious to any creative thinkers who put their minds to it, and it's difficult to imagine the government not taking advantage of that. Ronson pulls no punches about some of these techniques and how PsyOps can make use of them to cause grievous psychological and physical harm to people who, through their actions or just bad luck, get labeled as 'bad guys'.
There is, as mentioned, too much speculation, however. An example: He knows the US government consulted with a Russian specialist on subliminal messages in 1993 when the Branch Davidians were facing off with the FBI. He merely suspects, based on scant evidence, that PsyOps is attempting to use them in the WoT.
All in all, there is enough fact to make the book funny and unsettling by turns. While the reader must take certain theories with a hefty grain of salt, Ronson doesn't assert much as fact that he isn't sure of. He questions, ponders, and draws tentative conclusions based on precedent and statements from former military men (crackpots, the lot of them). It's enough to make you wonder how much is right, but given past programs, it wouldn't be terribly surprising....more
Krakauer is a great writer--his Into Thin Air is a triumph, and Under the Banner of Heaven is also excellent--but this book didn't work for me as wellKrakauer is a great writer--his Into Thin Air is a triumph, and Under the Banner of Heaven is also excellent--but this book didn't work for me as well. It isn't the writing so much that bothered me. He isn't quite so effective here as in other work, but he's still strong. What got me was the amount of sympathy in his narrative for McCandless and the heedless, selfish obsession with living an ascetic lifestyle to the enormous detriment of his family and, ultimately, his life. I get that Krakauer was a difficult teenager with a difficult family life who shared McCandless's love of adventure and the outdoors, but I feel it informed his writing on the subject too much.
Krakauer makes much of how prepared McCandless truly was for his endeavor in the Alaskan wilds, though he grants that the young man made a few serious errors. It seems to me, however, that McCandless got as far as he did mainly on luck and cleverness, rather than actual preparation. Or logic, for that matter. Something as simple as a topographical map, or some study of the general nature of that part of Alaska would have likely saved his life. Alas, his hubris got him killed, and the parts about his grieving family--family that clearly doted upon him and afforded him privileges far and away beyond that which most families can offer--are moving and difficult to read. This was a bright, friendly, gifted young man, beloved of the many strangers he befriended over his travels. His moral compass may have been somewhat broken--everything must be judged in black and white, especially family... but not necessarily everyone else--but he seems, at heart, a good enough kid, if more than a little deeply pretentious.
McCandless's story reminds me a bit of Timothy Treadwell, an slightly more insufferable, slightly less privileged kook who got himself and his girlfriend mauled to death by bears, thanks to his lack of due respect for wildlife....more
I can only pray that the copyediting was improved in later editions, because that was the sloppiest work I've ever seen.
As to the content... I can seeI can only pray that the copyediting was improved in later editions, because that was the sloppiest work I've ever seen.
As to the content... I can see why this biography is popular with a certain kind of Welles fan. Brady acknowledges Welles' faults, but the text sometimes borders on the sycophantic. Countless fawning descriptions of Welles' admittedly remarkable voice litter the discussion of his radio work. Reports of negative reviews are always immediately tempered with direct quotes of whatever positive reviews Brady could scrape together. There is precious little detail about Welles' private life--especially after his career kicks off--which perhaps is a kindness to Welles, given his propensity for cheating on his wives and alienating his allies. (Sadly, it also means we miss reading about his many solid friendships, and while we are told repeatedly about the famous Welles charm, we aren't really given a clear picture of it. Brady tells instead of showing.) Still, his professional life is messy and dramatic enough to hold anyone's attention.
Brady may have better served Welles' later years by breaking the biography into two volumes. I shudder to think how frustrating and depressing the second volume would be--SimonCallow will be helping me find out, one of these days--but at least it would have allowed Welles' last twenty years or so to be fleshed out more. Brady's account feels like little more than a list of failures and incomplete masterworks.
On a side note, it also annoyed me inordinately that he referred to Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards as "friends", an offense of understatement that I believe he later committed against another homosexual couple as well. Distractingly ridiculous....more
This book is a fascinating account of a Victorian Era murder, its investigation, and its consequences. I devoured it in less than a day. It's very welThis book is a fascinating account of a Victorian Era murder, its investigation, and its consequences. I devoured it in less than a day. It's very well-researched and crammed with wonderful amounts of detail regarding not only the case but also its coverage in the press, and cultural trends of the time. The writing style is engaging and moves quickly.
That said, if there were a way to give this 3.5 stars, I would. Summerscale's detail trends toward the sensational at times, almost criminally so in the afterword--make sure to read the endnotes for that section. And while she spends nearly the entire book describing Whicher's theory of the crime, at the very end she pulls out another theory that she claims he espoused all along, but did not pursue as he had no evidence. She drops hints to it throughout the text, and it occurred to me as a strong possibility early on, but she does not mention it until the end.
Five stars for fascination, but 1.5 deducted for intellectual dishonesty....more