Just Mercy -A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

February 20th, 2017 — 2:56pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, O - Other - Specify, P - Political

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I must admit that when I started this book, I was not in favor of the death penalty, mainly because I felt there might be some isolated cases where someone might be executed when they were innocent and actually did not commit premeditated murder. Now after having read this eye-opening excellent book. I am strongly against the death penalty for many reasons. I have a much more enlightened view of the criminal justice system in the United States and the tremendous injustices brought about by mass incarceration particularly in the south, to blacks and also to children who are often tried and sentenced as if they were grown adults. I had no idea of the miscarriages of justice that occur in this country.

The person I have to thank for this new valuable insight is the author of this book, Bryan Stevenson. Through his writing, I learned how as a Harvard law student, he volunteered to assist a small group working in Alabama to appeal death sentences of of prisoners on death row. His interest in this work led him to devote his career to working in this area and ultimately founding the Equal Justice Institute in Alabama. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.

In this book, Stevenson allows the reader to understand in great detail how in many cases, clearly innocent people were railroaded through the criminal justice system to a guilty and death penalty sentence. Improper jury selection, failure of defense lawyers to bring in witnesses or important exculpatory evidence, prosecutors who hid important evidence from the defense and judges making improper rulings were just some of the factors which put innocent people on death row. There also were numerous examples of people being sentenced to death in prison (meaning a life sentence) often for non-homicidal crimes. There also was a description of the treatment of children to the same fate. Many of these teenage kids, sometimes 13 years old, were clearly innocent or were only peripherally involved in a non-homicidal crime but nevertheless were sentenced to death in prison via a life sentence. The predominance of these injustices occurred in southern states mainly to blacks which revealed this phenomenon as an extension of slavery in this country. Speaking of slavery, I could not believe the forced coercion that occurred in many prisons which was clearly cruel and unfair. Any failure of these prisoners to participate in such activities which might be picking cotton or operating sometimes dangerous machinery for long hours could lead to very uncomfortable solitary confinement as well as beatings and other violent attacks.

It is one thing to discuss all this issues with statistics and general statements which were then documented. In fact, seven and a half percent of this book was made up of documented lawyer-like references or citations to substantiate the terrible injustices described. However, it is even more effective when the author goes into great detail describing the history of real people whose lives are destroyed by unfair imprisonment and horrendous treatment. Mr. Stevenson’s personal interaction with many of these prisoners brings them to life in the pages of this book and makes a need to improve our justice system all the more imperative. It is also easy to empathize with his feelings not only for the innocent unfairly treated adults and children, but even those who were guilty of crimes and may deserve some punishment but also deserve our mercy.

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The Undoing Project

February 12th, 2017 — 12:01am

Category: E- Economic

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-16-43-pmThe Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is a popular writer who has written best-selling books on interesting economic issues. Two-and-a-half years ago in 2014, I reviewed Flash Boys where he provided a fascinating insight into the crafty manipulations of ultra-fast electronic trading. Another favorite book of mine was Moneyball (2003) where Lewis told the story of how computerized statistical analyses were changing how sport franchises were being run. He was also known for The Blind Side (2006), The Big Short (2010) and Liar’s Poker (1989), as well as several other books dealing with various aspects of Wall Street.

This time he takes on the story of two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who through scientific evidence-based research provided unique insight into the human decision-making processes. They showed how human logic is often not very “logical”.

Prior to elaborating on their fascinating collaboration, Lewis traced each of their lives. Although they were both outstanding heroes in intellectual university circles and in the military service in the Israeli armed forces during wartime, they had contrasting personalities. This book provides a study of each of them. One was an extrovert and the other was an introvert who was a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood. As their collaboration matured, they were a couple who could finish each others’ sentences and were never sure which of them had originated a particular idea. This was particularly interesting because when prizes including a Nobel Prize were being handed out later in their careers, one was much more favored than the other.

One of the fun parts of the book is that in some of their groundbreaking experiments in which they asked their subjects relatively simple questions about predicting “so-called random behavior,” the reader of this book is provided with some of these questions and asked to give his or her answer, and you can then you are shown the defects in your thinking.

The far-reaching implications of much of their work, is illustrated by the wide range of business and government agencies who sought their advice. One example was the airline industry who wanted help in preventing mistakes in logic made by airline captains during an emergency which led to fatal air crashes. Their solution was that you cannot prevent the mistakes in logic that the commander of a plane might make it an emergency situation, but you could change the cockpit culture where no one was allowed to disagree with the captain especially in an emergency.

I did feel that some of the dismissal of psychoanalytic theory by the brilliant duo did not appreciate that such theory was never meant to predict human behavior but rather to understand it in retrospect and therefore find a process to relieve psychological suffering.

Overall this book was as a worthwhile experience as were Lewis’ other books which I have read. It was quite enlightening and most enjoyable.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

February 6th, 2017 — 3:29pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

As any student of US history would know, there was not an actual “underground railroad” where slaves could ride a train and escape to the north or to the west where they could be free. Rather the term was used for men and women, black and white who risked their lives and developed an “underground” network where fleeing Blacks could be hidden and sheltered as they sought to be free of slavery and oppression that existed in this country.

Colson Whitehead, the author of this book turns this metaphor into an actual train which would have the potential to ferry people to freedom. However, the very clear message of this book is that there was essentially no pathway to freedom in our country during this shameful period of US history. We see not only for slavery in the cotton fields and other areas of hard labor but also domestic slavery in the most “genteel” homes. We are reminded of the historical truth of the “breeding” of slaves, since children who grew into adult slaves had monetary value to their “owners.” There can be no denial of the brutal treatment of black slaves who were beaten and raped at will. The concept of so-called “ownership” of another person is explored at length in this book as we are introduced to the “slave catchers”. These are people who chase and trace slaves and bring them back to their “owners” for a large reward (often plus “expenses”). These bounty hunters have no border restrictions and were free to do their work in any part of the United States. As we were reminded of in the outstanding book and movie “12 Years a Slave” there were no safe zones in any part of the United States even in New York and in New England. Perhaps there were some so-called “black freemen” in some states but in additional to prejudice and discrimination which they faced, there was always the possibility of being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

As is often the case with a great novel, the author tells his or her story through the eyes of one or more characters. There were several people in the book who gave this reader the opportunity to understand their experiences. Most meaningful to me was to inhabit Cora, a young black girl who eventually “rode the railroad” and her mother Mabel, who abandoned Cora at a young age and made her attempted run for freedom.

Then there is the question of what would I do if I lived in that period and have the opportunity to hide a fleeing slave or perhaps a persecuted Jew in Nazi Germany, and in both cases knowing that if I were discovered it would mean death to me and my family. The author allows us to get some insight into such people who chose to be part of the “underground railroad”.

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

December 16th, 2016 — 1:05am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-59-30-pmHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis

by J.D. Vance

This is a compassionate view of the white lower working class in which the author grew up. It provides an insight to the part of rural America which supported the incoming President of the United States, Donald Trump. The author proudly wears the name “hillbilly” and acknowledges that many parts of America look down upon that designation.

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio after his grandparents immigrated from Kentucky where coal mining jobs and other work were drying up and the mills and factories of the Mid-West seemed to offer opportunity for employment and some upward mobility. As we know, more recently there have been rough times for this area which became known as the “rust belt.” If you are not coming from a family of some means that is handed over to you, one must rely on the character traits that you have that will motivate you and allow you to navigate in this world. Family is very crucial here. J.D. Vance certainly did not have a role model from his parents. His mother, who showed flashes of caring for him did not provide emotional or any other type of support. She was a drug addict who ran through about five different husbands.

J.D. Vance’s saviors were his grandparents. His grandfather known as Papaw was probably an alcoholic who at least had a job but didn’t form any strong bond with the author. The most important person to him in his youth was his grandmother known as Mamaw – a very tough woman with whom he periodically lived and who gave him confidence in himself. He was obviously bright but came very close to dropping out of high school. Thanks to Mamaw, an occasional teacher and perhaps one or two other relatives he developed the “right stuff” not only to graduate high school but then had the where with all to join the United States Marine Corps where he served for four years. Having recently seen the movie “Fences” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, we also appreciated another situation where joining the Marine Corps after high school, in this case a young black man was able to receive support and direction that he couldn’t get from his family.

J.D. Vance’s success in going through Ohio State University after the Marine Corps and working at various jobs to provide him money that he needed reflected his determination. He was then surprised at getting accepted at Yale Law School with very good financial support because he was probably the most needy student that was admitted that year. His observations of what it meant to be a student at Yale Law School were notable. He made the point that it was the connections and the networking which made all the difference in the world and opened so many doors for him.

Mr. Vance on one hand makes the point that self-will and determination are the necessary ingredients to succeed in the world but he also says that he wouldn’t have succeeded without the love and confidence in him provided by his grandparents. Without these factors he is sure he would not have made it out of Appalachia. This book informs us about the lives, trials and tribulations of people that many of us might never meet. It provides important insight and raises some very stimulating questions. It is a book well worth reading.

 

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My Way by Paul Anka

November 21st, 2016 — 4:44pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

My Way by Paul Ankascreen-shot-2016-11-21-at-2-08-00-am

I have always enjoyed the music of Paul Anka. So when someone told me that he wrote this book and told all about the behind the scenes goings on of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, I thought it might be worth reading, especially since Frank Sinatra has always been one of my heroes.

Well, it turned out to be a very interesting book, but the heroes moved down a couple of notches. Frank Sinatra turns out to frequently be an unpleasant drunk when he drank lot which he often did. Sammy Davis, Jr., is shown to be a promiscuous bisexual but interestingly enough, Dean Martin wasn’t the lush that was often his public persona and apparently avoided the wild drinking parties of the other Rat Pack members.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that women were objectified by this group. Sinatra apparently surprised his friends when he said in response to a question that the women who was best in bed wasn’t Ava Gardner but was Angie Dickinson, adding according to Anka that he said he “really loved that woman.”

Paul Anka was born in Canada and burst on to the world stage as a teenager. He is a very talented singer and songwriter who has reinvented himself several time and still is performing into his ‘70s. His love of his work clearly comes through in this book. His song writing ability and his decision to write for other performers as well as himself makes him quite unique. He wrote Frank Sinatra’s signature song “My Way” and even wrote the Tonight Show theme song among numerous other mega hit songs. He has performed in just about every major venue around the world and has recorded bestselling albums in the United States and in other countries, as well as in different languages. Not only was he friends and part of the Rat Pack but he was also good friends with Elvis, Bobby Darin, Bob Dylan and numerous other big name stars.

The person who writes the book gets to paint his own history and is able to tell about others any way that he wishes to do so. For example, Anka relates how Ed McMahon was a somewhat stingy guy and one time Anka played a joke on him by calling his hotel room and pretending to be the hotel staff. He told McMahon that there were going to be noisy renovations taking place near his room and that they can move him to another room or let him stay there for free and give him ear muffs to block out the sound which was the choice that McMahon made.

The reader gets the impression that Anka avoided heavy drinking and drugs and we only get a vague reference that he had all the girls he wanted early in his career. He tells how he loved his parents who were quite supportive of him. His mother died at an early age and his father helped him in his business. Anka had five daughters from his first marriage which lasted 38 years and then was briefly married for 18 months. He revealed very little about his personal foibles but I thought his description of his long marriage and the breakup was notable and I will quote part of it here.

I am a singer of love songs, I sing songs of everlasting love, how you’re the only one – and I believe in it. But sometimes these things don’t work out in your private life. I was married to Anne for 38 years and I love her still. She is the mother of my five daughters who have all brought terrific son-in-laws into our family and we had a great life together. I love this woman. I always will. Getting divorced from Anne was just something I had to do for myself. Our kids were gone, our lives changed, our relationship changed. I can’t remain in something – even a long time of loving marriage – when I’m no longer experiencing things honestly. I didn’t want to be dishonest to someone I love even if that meant separating and so in 2001, Anne and I were divorced. There was no animosity, no big fights – I just wanted out of the box. We talk almost every day… I gave Anne everything that was legally hers and I threw in our art collection (that is worth millions) because I know how much she loved it, and other considerations but I said, “None of this down the middle stuff.

Anka appears to be very gratified for his great success as a performer, he describes many musicians, managers, agents, and performers who were his good friends. He detailed his relationship with Steve Wynn, the wealthy Las Vegas hotel mogul and his many interesting stories about him including one about Donald Trump which is in character with his current persona.

Towards the end of the book, Anka clearly describes how he feels every time he performs and steps on the stage. The intensity of that experience and his connection with the audience is very impressive.

I am sure he didn’t write this book for the royalties that it might bring. He probably chose to share at least part of his life and perhaps try to influence the legacy that he will leave. It was a nice read but he need not worry, as his music will live on and define Paul Anka for many generations. To listen to one of Paul Anka’s biggest hits click here.

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

October 13th, 2016 — 2:19pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman51mquehbm3l-_sl300_

This is a Swedish book all about a man who could be described as a “crabby old man…curmudgeon…angry…stubborn…etc..” He doesn’t seem to like new technology such as the Internet. He only buys Saab automobiles. He seems fixed in his ways. Now older people are known to gravitate towards these characteristics. (So I have been told) But wait, he really wasn’t that old. It was mentioned a few times that he was 59 years old. Maybe this is all relative or perhaps the author was fairly young when he wrote this book. (I was able to determine that he was 32 years old when the book was published)

As the book progresses, especially through various gravesite one way conversations with his deceased wife we learn about the very close relationship he had with her during their 40 years of a childless marriage in which they both seemed to be very happy. We see that beneath it all Ove is a caring person who will teach a pregnant neighbor to learn how to drive, build her a crib for her expected child, relate to a young kid next door and have some very endearing characteristics although hidden under his gruff surface. There is also a part of him that can’t find the reason to live and seemed determined to carry out a neatly organized suicide. We can even empathize with him especially when we see that he clearly believes he will be reunited with his beloved wife.

The main character did hold my interest but overall this book was not a page turner for me.. The success of this book, I believe is to the degree in which the reader relates to Ove and finds important characteristics in him with which to self-identify. In the case of women, I  imagine if they would have to recognize in him certain traits of the men that they love. I personally  could indentify  with  someone who cares more than he overtly shows it. Perhaps that is a guy thing. Then there is the issue that his wife really understood him and now that she was gone, he had to find a way to hold on to her. The book certainly did not have a complicated plot. We were not taken to exotic places or given unusual dilemmas. I could only hope that the pending movie can raise the pulse of this story.

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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

September 25th, 2016 — 10:53pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-7-37-56-pmThe Vietnam War was of my generation. I served in the Air Force in Texas 1968-1970. I recalled vividly the anti-war protesters of that time. There were many great movies about this war that I have seen which includes Apocalypse Now, Platoon and many others. I have met and spoken with refugees from Vietnam including those who identified themselves as “Boat People.” I have a rudimentary understanding of the French colonialism of Vietnam, the rise of communism, the war between the North and South, America’s entry into it and the ultimate withdrawal and the Fall of Saigon. I can’t say that this well-written book clarified this complicated political history to any great degree. In fact, it may have blurred the margins of some of the issues and muted my simplistic view of them. However, what this novel did provide for me was an insight into the personal viewpoints and struggles that many of the native players have gone through as they overtly and covertly battled each other for the heart and soul of this country.

This is a story of revolution and counterrevolution. It occurred in an era of brainwashing, torture, hidden moles, intelligence and counterintelligence. I realized that one’s belief and loyalty to a particular political cause may very well depend on where you were born. But on the other hand, it becomes clear in this case that once the communist revolution succeeded in the North and then in the South, the so-called collective society itself became oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical. This is certainly one of the messages of this book.

This book was well researched and well written. In fact, it is the author’s style and way with words that entertains as well as educates the reader. While most of the sentences of this book were of average length, there was one somewhat lengthy one which will give you a taste of this book and the skill and style of the author:

We could not forget the caramel flavor of iced coffee with coarse sugar; the bowls of noodle soup eaten while squatting on the sidewalk; the strumming of a friend’s guitar while we swayed on hammocks under coconut trees; the football matches played barefoot and shirtless in alleys, squares, parks, and meadows; the pearl chokers of morning mist draped around the mountains; the labial moistness of oysters shucked on a gritty beach; the whisper of a dewy lover saying the most seductive words in our language, anh oi; the rattle of rice being threshed; the workingmen who slept in their cyclos on the streets, kept warm only by the memories of their families; the refugees who slept on every sidewalk of every city; the slow burning of patient mosquito coils; the sweetness and firmness of a mango plucked fresh from its tree; the girls who refused to talk to us and who we only pined for more; the men who had died or disappeared; the streets and homes blown away by bombshells; the streams where we swam naked and laughing; the secret grove where we spied on the nymphs who bathed and splashed with the innocence of the birds; the shadows cast by candlelight on the walls of wattled huts; the atonal tinkle of cowbells on mud roads and country paths; the barking of a hungry dog in an abandoned village; the appetizing reek of the fresh durian one wept to eat; and the sight and sound of orphans howling by the dead bodies of their mothers and fathers; the stickiness of one’s shirt by afternoon, the stickiness of one’s lover by the end of lovemaking, the stickiness of our situations; the frantic squealing of pigs running for their lives as villagers gave chase; the hills afire with sunset; the crowned head of dawn rising from the sheets of the sea; the hot grasp of our mother’s hand; and while the list could go on and on and on, the point was simply this: the most important thing we could never forget was that we could never forget.

Although I don’t think that this book would be at the top of my list, it did win a Pulitzer Prize. So if this subject is of interest to you, The Sympathizer should be worth the ride.

 

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The Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

August 29th, 2016 — 11:23pm

Category: FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

           Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.16.41 PMThe Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

This book must be meant for readers deep into science fiction preferably with a good background in astronomy. I am only a causal student of the above so early on I found myself mostly at a loss what the dialog was all about. It was as if I were immersed in a place where another language was spoken and I only had taken an introductory course  in that language many years ago. However, because I chose to live for awhile in this land ( in other words I was going to continue reading the book although the people were speaking a foreign language) eventually I began to catch on what was going on as is often the case with immigrants settling into a new country

What was going on was quite fascinating and mind boggling One day people on earth looked up at the moon and noticed that it had become split into 8 discrete pieces. Scientists on earth soon realized that as a result of this event there would be a gradual but exponential increase in the number and size of meteorites crashing into earth They confidently predicted that in 20 years there would be a “Reign Of Rocks” that would destroy everything on the face of the earth. The only chance for any humans to survive would be those residents of the space station circling the earth.There was a great effort to expand the space center with numerous small “arklets” attached  to a massive structure floating in space where a  relatively small number of humans could live . There was a worldwide “Casting of the Lots” to choose representatives of all the peoples of earth. There is an attempt also to bring genetic samples up in space and futuristic understanding of genetics is an important part of this story.

This book follows the plight of these humans  and their descendants in space as it takes 5000 years for the surface of the earth to be cooled down where it can be  safe explored  There is character development as a good novel should offer but also an opportunity to follow the various characters  and characteristics of their descendants. There are plots and subplots. Science is an important part of this book and the author stretched our imagination in physics , aeronautics, biology and  robotics. In the epilogue we are told that several scientists in different fields have read drafts of the book and made various suggestions.

I would be very surprised if this book becomes a best seller.  I do think it will make a great movie. There are vivid descriptions of futuristic structures as well as varied human appearances with the passage of time and evolution. These would make  great visuals for a film.  I believe  a creative script based on this novel should be able to capture the futuristic  human interaction described in this piece  and could also highlight  some of the interesting plot developments. For most of you,  wait for the movie rather than struggle through the book.

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

July 21st, 2016 — 10:45pm

Category: MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 5.00.55 PMThe Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

Kevin Dutton, the author of this book is a PhD research psychologist at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. His principal research interests are persuasion and social influence, and the psychopathic personality. This is his 4th book and 3 of them also clearly deal with psychopaths

This book is all about the Psychopathic Personality. While all aspects of this interesting entity are discussed from many view points, I don’t believe a clear definition was put forth- probably because there are some disagreements about many of the fine points. For the purpose of this review I will go by the definition of Psychopathic Personality as being a personality disorder characterized by amorality and lack of affect; capable of violent acts without guilt feelings. In the psychiatric literature the term was superseded by “ sociopathic personality ” which then evolved to the  “antisocial personality”

In the latest Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 ( DSM-5), the term antisocial personality is used and defined as “ A persuasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 as indicated by THREE (or more) of the following:

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deceitfulness as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another

The individual also must be at least 18 years of age, there has to be  evidence of the disorder starting before age 15 and it should not exclusively occur during the course of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The author describes, to my mind, fascinating research by various authors about this entity. Often various scales are used to define the psychopathic personality that incorporate different aspects of the above criteria. Some would appear to emphasize some criteria and others would favor different criteria. Some researchers used very extensive tests and others would just ask a few questions. Before I go further, readers might was to take an 11 question test to see where they fit in on the psychopathic scale as determined by this short questionnaire.

Another test that he uses is a variation of the classical moral dilemma of the overcrowded lifeboat. Either some people have to be thrown overboard and die in the icy waters or they all will die. Various subjects are asked this question and how fast they answer, what their answer would be and perhaps what part their brain was shown to be active while they were deciding, all might be studies and the results would also be analyzed according to their scoring on a psychopathic scale of one type or the other.

Various components of the psychopathic personality are broken down and studied. For example, the author was interested in the fact that college students are trending to be less empathic and more narcissistic in various research studies.

The author is very interested in epigenetics, which is the change in how a gene is expressed without changing the DNA sequence. This would appear to be looking at how environmental factors influence how the gene is going to be expressed. This could occur to the fetus during pregnancy or I would suggest the same definition could occur by experience in childhood but all impacting on some genes that perhaps had a tendency to produce psychopathy. The author considers also how such things as child abuse might even produce an enzyme that in a susceptible individual might make them more aggressive.

The book is a hybrid between an interesting non-fiction discussion of the psychopath and a scholarly textbook. as would be the case in the latter many references are cited but not in the usual scholarly form but rather by an asterix(*), which leads the reader to the appendix where the topic is superficially discussed. Not knowing the research, we are left with the author’s conclusion about it without any critical analysis. For example we are not told the degree of statistical analytic support (or if there was statistical proof or just a trend) nor are we told if there might be other explanations that might shed light on a particular research finding.

There are many interesting questions raised by the author about the psychopath and various characteristics, which make up psychopathy.

For example, the psychopath often has ability to remain calm and objective under stress with razor sharp focus which might be useful in sports as a quarterback under pressure, a fireman in a dangerous situation and maybe even as a Navy Seal. You might want one in your foxhole unless of course there were a situation where only one person could survive.

There are many unexpected angles that the author uses to approach the analysis of psychopaths. He even makes the case that Saint Paul was a psychopath and that there could be a thin line between Saint and a psychopath. After all isn’t mindfulness an altered state where one is present, open, and alert with all judgment and interpretations suspended?

There is a discussion about empathy, something of which we might imagine that the psychopath would be in short supply. However in the riveting discussion about some sadistic serial killers, it was that exquisite ability to feel their victim’s pain, which was converted to pleasure and drove them to their numerous twisted murders.

So whether you are clinician or a layperson that has been fascinated by the characteristics often defined by the term psychopath, this book will hold your interest and even get you to wonder if deep down you have some of these traits.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

July 14th, 2016 — 11:18pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.09.58 AM11/22/1963

By Stephen King

The main character of this novel is Jake Epping, a school teacher in Maine, who is introduced to a “rabbit hole” in time. That is, if he steps through an opening in a pantry and finds an invisible but palpable small staircase, he will come out on the other side on a particular day in 1958. No matter how long he stays at this new time when he steps back to his original time, it will be that he has only been gone for two minutes. He is introduced to this unusual situation by Al, an acquaintance who is an older man dying of cancer who has made several excursions back to 1958 and lived there for a while. As indicated in the title of this book, “11/22/63” is an important date in this story. As any American knows this was the date that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Old dying Al was planning to stop the assassination of JFK and now hopes that Jake will take on this task and he provides him with some preliminary observations on Oswald that Al has made during his several visits back in time.

As you can imagine this can be a complicated process. How would this presidential assassin be stopped? What about the lingering question whether Oswald acted alone? Also, if you are going back in time even for such a worthy cause might you also try to change the course of some other events perhaps prevent an innocent child being murdered or scarred for life? But most important, what are the implications of traveling back in time and altering history?

Who better to take on these questions than Stephen King, one of the most successful, prolific contemporary authors of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, fantasy and science fiction? This novel published in 2011 was approximately King’s 52nd novel which doesn’t include his very numerous other writing endeavors such as novellas, short stories, movies, television programs and many other projects dating back to 1974 when his first novel Carrie was published. King has established himself as one of the creative writing geniuses of modern times. Not only is he original and very imaginative but he builds these ideas within insightful character development. King also does extensive research on all aspects of his subject matter. In this case, as discussed by the author in the epilogue to the book, which included interviews with him, he has read extensively about the history of JFK and his untimely death. This included numerous books written about all the circumstances, details and cast of characters of the events that occurred on 11/22/63. He also spent time visiting and studying Dallas and The Book Depository where Oswald was perched to shoot Kennedy as well as other places mentioned in the book.

Perhaps the most stimulating aspect of this book to me is the intriguing so called “butterfly question”. If one could travel back in time and change anything, how would that alter future events which would impact on other subsequent events? Would the slightest flutter or minute change in the course of history cause other changes which might cascade to unexpected major events? Would seemingly insignificant changes lead to more meaningful changes? Even if one could alter the course of history, can we be sure it would ultimately be for the better?

As Jake, the main character of this book, immerses himself into the past, readers cannot help but be on the edge of their reading seats whether we are flipping pages or pushing buttons. We find ourselves wondering what would we do and how would we do it if we found ourselves being able to go through that rabbit hole in time? There were surprises, moments of elation and disappointments. I could not wait to find how the story would end and I was sorry when it was over.

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