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Denial: A Memoir of Terror Hardcover – June 22, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this skillfully wrought, powerful study, a terrorism expert, national security adviser (The Ultimate Terrorists), and lecturer at Harvard, returns to a definitive episode of terror in her own early life and traces its grim, damaging ramifications. Having grown up in Concord, Mass., in 1973, Stern, then 15, and her sister, a year younger, were forcibly raped at gunpoint by an unknown intruder; when the police reopened the case in 2006, Stern was compelled to confront the devastating experience. The police initially tied the case to a local serial rapist, who served 18 years in prison before hanging himself. Stern's painful journey takes her back to the traumatic aftershocks of the rape, when she began to affect a stern, hard veneer not unlike the stiff-upper-lip approach to survival her own German-born Jewish father had assumed after his childhood years living through Nazi persecution. Covering up her deep-seated sense of shame with entrenched silence, Stern had a classic post-traumatic stress disorder—which she was only able to recognize after her own work interviewing terrorists. Stern's work is a strong, clear-eyed, elucidating study of the profound reverberations of trauma. (July)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Much of the power of this memoir comes from the central irony that its author, who has traveled the world for 20 years interviewing terrorists, plotting counterterrorism strategies, and advising people with post-traumatic stress disorders, is herself a PTSD sufferer, the effect of a trauma she kept so locked down that, until recently, she wasn’t aware of how it had commandeered her life. Stern, who has a doctorate in public policy from Harvard, lectures at Harvard Law School and is the author of the acclaimed Terror in the Name of God (2003). When she was 15, a home invader raped Jessica and her 14-year-old sister in their Concord, Massachusetts, home. Police doubted their stories, their father took a stiff-upper-lip approach, and Jessica learned to substitute accomplishment for feeling. Finally, her extreme lack of feeling urged her to investigate what happened. Part of this book is her search, with the help of a cop who believes her, for the identify of the man who raped her and what happened to him. While this is satisfying on a cold-case level, far more suspenseful is Stern’s chronicle of what PTSD feels like and her struggle to surmount it. Stern dedicates her book to all the victims of terrorism and assault. Wonderfully compassionate, absorbing reading for anyone. --Connie Fletcher

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061626651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061626654
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #989,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jessica Stern is one of the foremost experts on terrorism. She serves on the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. In 2009, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on trauma and violence. Jessica is a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. She was named a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, fellow of the World Economic Forum, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellow.

She has authored TERROR IN THE NAME OF GOD: Why Religious Militants Kill, selected by the New York Times as a notable book of the year; THE ULTIMATE TERRORISTS; and numerous articles on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. She served on President Clinton's National Security Council Staff in 1994-95 (read a May 1995 letter and July 1995 letter from the President and this note from the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs expressing their gratitude for her work and contribution).

Jessica was included in Time magazine's series profiling 100 people with bold ideas. The film, "The Peacemaker", with Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, was based on a fictional version of Jessica's work at the National Security Council. Her new book, DENIAL: A Memoir of Terror, is now available, published by Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bessel A van der Kolk on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have been studying the effects of trauma on mind, brain and human development for the past 30 years and written hundreds of articles about it. As a result of hearing so many trauma stories and seeing so many damaged human beings I like to spend my spare time getting away from it all. I read Jessica Stern's book after she gave me a copy and after a literary friend told me that it was the most profound account of the subjective experience of trauma, and I could not put it down. The courage with which Jessica unravels her own story and allows herself to know what she knows and feel what she feels is a remarkable human journey from confusion and doubt to clarity and perspective. Stern gives an incisive account of the shape of the imprint of trauma on body and soul, and shows us how honest confrontation with what we already know, but try to forget, is essential in order be liberated from the past.

The way Stern writes about how trauma has affected her relationships with her loved ones, and how an honest and compassionate confrontation led to true and deep human connections made me weep.

Thank you for writing such a beautiful book!!
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By J. Weiland on July 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title for this review is a fitting quotation from William Faulkner for the topic of this book. In "Denial: A Memoir of Terror", Jessica Stern reviews her personal motivations for becoming a highly respected expert on international terrorism. Although her academic career began as a bench chemist, her fascination with the weapons of terror, and ultimately the motivation of terrorists, lead her to complete a doctorate in public policy. She describes becoming curious as to her ability to interview terrorists, engaging them in a way to maximize revealing their inner motivations for the terror they seek to inflict.

What unfolds in this narrative is an intriguing and admittedly harrowing account of the latter part of Dr. Stern's childhood, beginning with the rape of herself and her sister by a stranger in the early 1970s when they were in their early teens. On account of this incident, the memoir focuses on many "whys": Why did this rapist terrorize young women and girls and why did he ritualize the act; why did her father not return immediately from Europe upon hearing of the event; why did the police not connect the details of the rape to ultimately 40 others with the same MO; and why despite decades in a professional career did the incident appear to be affecting Stern's ability to lead an emotionally satisfying life? With the help of therapy, interviews with her father and those connected to the rapist, and a veteran of the Iraq war, Stern begins to accept that many of her symptoms and motivations derive from the rape and the denial by herself and those around her of the impact of these colluding factors.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Peterson on July 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I would encourage you to listen to the interview "A Terrorism Expert Explores Personal Trauma" on the Here & Now show with Robin Young along with reading the reviews.

I have spent countless hours facilitating people discovering their internal greatness to take ownership over PTSD and DID traumas. Their resilience and determination is a testimony to the power of the human spirit and mind to master even the worst of events regardless of how numerous or deeply buried under the disassociation needed to psychologically survive. This book is for people choosing to thrive.

It also is for you, the skeptic/family/friend who is choosing to understand the power of PTSD. Rather than reading dozens of books and spending a hundred hours in observing therapy; you can start here, and most likely end here, to understand PTSD and also begin to grasp the more advanced and complicated psycho-dynamics of DID (dissociative identity disorder). You also will get a lesson in our cultural sociological system of denial. There are only three things you need to know about the typical conscious mind real-estate; denial, denial and denial. Denial is necessary - until it's value runs out.

You will experience intuitive insights about the pain, signs that something was never quite right and the power of choice to heal over fear. Reading this book will facilitate your choice to understand (vs. blame), make a decisions on how to comprehend (vs. reason away) the events they relate, and participate with their choice to thrive. You will be able to knock down the gauntlet of folk psychology, and the knowledge you gain will be the undoing of a common reasoning; "I didn't experience this and only know one child/person who is telling wide stories, therefore it can't be real."
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By N. Taylor on August 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have been dreading writing this review for a couple of days. I didn't like the book. I was disappointed which says something for my own expectations rather than the author. Given the author's expertise and academic accomplishment, I expected to be "wowed" by her insight and experience. Instead I felt like I was reading a teenager's diary which would actually make a lot of sense, since she hasn't opened this compartment since the horrific experience when she was 15.

What made it feel like a diary of a teenager was the constant exploration of personal interpretation, innuendo, and perception. Dr. Stern provides an inner dialogue of her journey from the moment the detective calls her to the publication of her book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I simply thought it contained irrelevant information along with some golden nuggets. For instance, while talking with any number of people, the conversation is reported verbatim, which I liked. On the inside, the author is contemplating birds, surfaces, and discusses the way the person uses verb tense. Many of these inner dialogues come to naught.

Additionally, the author suffers from disturbing thoughts and images, which I believe is not uncommon. What bothered me is the innuendo that her grandfather performed sexual acts upon her prior to her rape. Yet this is never explored nor addressed. Did he? Don't know. So was that tidbit relevant? I don't know. The reader seeks closure.

What I liked about the book is that the author weaves the similarities of terror and the different ways of integrating the terror-inducing experiences through stories of her father's history during the Holocaust, soldiers who have suffered from PTSD, and people who have been traumatized by sexual acts.
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