I originally rated this book five stars because it moved me to tears. Then I saw a couple of documentaries about Koko. It turns out that Dr. Francine...moreI originally rated this book five stars because it moved me to tears. Then I saw a couple of documentaries about Koko. It turns out that Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson is an incompetent psychopath who doesn't know the first thing about primatology. She says things like, "I don't care what the critics say. I'm not 'humanizing' Koko, I'm peopleizing her." She also slaps a very young Koko in the face when she "misbehaves" (ie, acts like a gorilla and plays rough with Michael, another gorilla). Even the way she teaches her sign language is insane. You can't sign "water" while saying the word "water" and expect a gorilla to understand what that means. You need to model water for them in some way, show them water, give them water to drink, etc.
Also, Dr. Penny claims that since Koko's fingers can't make the same signs as people's, Koko doesn't do ASL, she does "GSL" (Gorilla sign language). What this actually means is Dr. Penny has total control of what Koko is saying, since she interprets it all herself. When Koko signs "pink," Dr. Penny claims that is the gorilla way of expressing shame. When Michael signs "black," then signs "red," Dr. Penny explains that he is telling of how black men (Africans) killed his family.
I have no doubt that Koko, Michael, and Ndume (the gorillas Dr. Penny "studied") are sensitive, intelligent creatures. However, the idea that they can communicate using sign language in a perfectly human, one-for-one speech relationship is insane. But Dr. Penny doesn't seem to realize that, or seem to realize that there might be any differences between gorillas and humans. Which is perhaps not surprising, since she has a degree in developmental psychology, not primatology. She treats Koko like the daughter she never had, and in the creepiest ways. For instance, she raises Koko and Michael to eventually be lovers and mate. When she learns (or intuits) that two gorillas raised together regard each other as brother and sister, and mating is not going to happen, she gets Koko involved with video dating and has Koko sign, based only on looking at male gorilla images on a TV, whether or not she likes the guy. Really? Don't gorillas react to ... I don't know ... scent, or personal interaction? Well, apparently they do, because Koko's potential mate Ndume and she haven't been hitting it off either. Oh, and why did she start video dating? Because when Dr. Penny was in her early 40s, Koko "signed to her that she wanted a baby." Really, Dr. Penny? Really?(less)
The title and lurid cover art are both pretty misleading, since the book is mostly about the media hype and hysteria surrounding "Satanism," a phenome...moreThe title and lurid cover art are both pretty misleading, since the book is mostly about the media hype and hysteria surrounding "Satanism," a phenomenon that the author concludes isn't even really a phenomenon, let alone a systematized religious movement. I enjoyed the book overall, but I still think my favorite part of it is the photograph of Anton LaVey posing with Sammy Davis, Jr.(less)
This is an excellent introduction to J.G. Ballard's fiction, life, and worldview. If you've never read any of his books, this might actually be the be...moreThis is an excellent introduction to J.G. Ballard's fiction, life, and worldview. If you've never read any of his books, this might actually be the best place to start. His novels are often cold, clinical, and bizarre, so it's nice to come to them with some idea of his obsessions and general outlook on life. Also, he's a surprisingly warm and verbose interview subject.(less)
Although the background is good and the conclusions are insightful, if you're looking for a book about the overall political situation in Somalia in t...moreAlthough the background is good and the conclusions are insightful, if you're looking for a book about the overall political situation in Somalia in the 1990s, Black Hawn Down may disappoint you. More than 90% of the book is devoted to the events of October 3rd, 1993, and most of it is told from the point of view of individual combatants. So if you're looking for a minute-by-minute story of the Battle of Mogadishu, you won't be disappointed. Black Hawk Down is one of the most solid and engaging pieces of journalism I've read in a long time.(less)
William Castle is a brilliant raconteur. Reading this book is like standing next to him at a cocktail party, listening to one hilarious and fascinatin...moreWilliam Castle is a brilliant raconteur. Reading this book is like standing next to him at a cocktail party, listening to one hilarious and fascinating anecdote after another, unable to get a word in edgewise but not caring one bit.
Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America is divided into roughly three parts. The first is all about his early life in the theater, before he became a filmmaker. There's a nearly unbelievable, wonderful story in this section about how he secretly trashed his own theater a few days before opening night, drawing graffiti to make it look as if Nazi sympathizers in the U.S. were against him, guaranteeing a load of free publicity for himself. The second part is all about his life in Hollywood in the '50s and '60s. This section will be the most familiar to readers who already know all about his classic thrillers from this period, as well as the gimmicks he came up with to promote them. (For instance, to promote his 1959 film The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, he wired theater seats to joybuzz patrons' spines while a silhouette of the centipede-like "Tingler" crawled over the screen and Price giddily intoned, "The Tingler is loose in the theater! Scream! Scream for your lives!") The third part is all about working with Roman Polanski on Rosemary's Baby, which Castle produced, since the studio wouldn't let him direct it himself due to his reputation as a schlock filmmaker.
I'm a huge fan of William Castle's films, especially The Tingler, Homicidal, Strait Jacket, and Mr. Sardonicus. It's a shame more of his films aren't available on DVD. He made a picture early in his career, for instance, starring Robert Mitchum, called When Strangers Marry that I would love to see. It's also a real shame that this book is no longer in print. It's time for a third edition, people!(less)