As an academic whose students teasingly accused of being the Unabomber a couple of times in the late 1990s myself, after reading the manifesto in the fall of 1996 I realized both why they were teasing me and how many of the perspectives and ideas regarding the nature of modern society and its impact on our experience of reality we shared. And while his own particular interpretation of the effects and influences of modern technological society varied in substantial detail from my own regarding the specific mechanics by which it operated and its influence and effects, I was drawn by what I considered to be the mysterious forces that would force someone with such an obviously passionate love for the environment and the earth to commit random acts of murder in its name.
The media, of course, dismissed the manifesto as the irrational ramblings of a mad man, which to an untrained journalist's mind, anyone willing to murder complete strangers must surely be. Well, not necessarily. Terrorists, for example, may be immoral and horrific, but they are necessarily insane. They may just be committed to the particular cause to the degree they are willing to use any means to reach the desired end. And indeed, if the manifesto was the work of a mad man, there seemed to be some method to it. I found some answers from an interesting article written by Sales Kirkpatrick, a fellow self-confessed Neo-Luddite who feared the dehumanizing consequences of the emerging postindustrial society. He critiqued the manifesto, and in so doing helped many to better appreciate how this individual had slipped over the edge into homicide and madness. This book, "Harvard And the Unabomber" provides us with an excellent exploration that helps to make the connections between Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski's formative years, especially those spent at Harvard as an undergraduate student, on the one hand, and his intriguing albeit dogmatic treatise on what ails modern man.
The author, Alston Chase, shares many common experiences and perspectives with Kaczynski; both are Harvard graduates, academics who fled the academy for the wilderness early in their careers, and both of whom retreated to the mountains of Montana for reclusive relief. Chase spins a convincing and systematic portrait of how the intellectual philosophy in vogue at Harvard in those years led Kaczynski in the specific direction of his angry philippic against the evils of the modern world. He also, quite intriguingly, details how immersion in some highly confidential and also quite controversial psychological studies at Harvard may have contributed to his deteriorating mental health and contributed mightily to his generally dyspeptic and cynical view of scientists in general and psychologists in particular. In Chase's view, Kaczynski is very much a victim of the society of the general anxieties related to the suffocating atmosphere of the Cold War and of the unusual pressures the unorthodox Us Army sponsored psychological experiments he participated in during his Harvard years.
Finally, Chase is highly critical of the way in Which Harvard yielded to the unseemly and unethical treatment the students were subjected to in order to give the Army the information they had contracted for. Given Kaczynski's intellect, he likely then generalized from his experience while enduring the experiments, drawing some frighteningly dangerous conclusions about the nature of modern society as a result. This is a worthwhile and very carefully written book, one not disposed to easy answers and one that takes great pains to be both thorough and fair. It is well worth the reading. Enjoy!
on June 15, 2007
Author Alston Chase is a contemporary of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Both attended Harvard in the late 1950's, both worked as university professors and, coincidentally, both retired to seclusion in Montana. Chase originally set out to write a book about the legacy of 1960's America. His research on Kaczynski revealed that contrary to the media's snap judgment, Kaczynski was not a product of his 1960's time at Berkley. The Unabomber manifesto is, in fact, rooted in 1950's Cold War ideology and the teachings of liberal arts colleges such as Harvard during that decade. Chase writes, "Once they had made up their minds about Kaczynski--whether deciding that he is insane, a profound philosopher, a misguided ideologist, or a representative of the sixties--many people lost interest in him. University scholars all too willing to devote seminars to such pop cultural doss as the Grateful Dead and Star Trek have virtually ignored the manifesto, producing just two articles on it since its appearance."
In the first half of the book, Chase provides a chronology of Kaczynski's crimes and his never-ending quest for a more powerful, more deadly bomb. Chase sheds lights on the futility of the FBI search and the numerous red herrings Kaczynski set our for law enforcement. The media, cut off from Kaczynski's cabin, were quick to label his messy and unkempt, when in reality he was meticulously organized. He kept a standard mountain tradition of not wasting water bathing while doing heavy winter work, and for that he was labeled a strange, unclean hermit. The media interviewed people Kaczynski didn't like, and they labeled him a misanthrope. When Chase interviewed Kaczynski's friends in the local Montana town, however, they remembered him as friendly and intelligent, if somewhat reserved. And the desolate cabin in the woods? It was within hearing distance of a highway, and Kaczynski had enough neighbors that he managed to keep up several boundary and land use disputes.
Chase's thesis is that Kaczynski was forever scarred by a series of intense psychological experiments he participated in as a Harvard undergraduate student. Researcher Henry A. Murray, a veteran of DoD psychology experimentation conducted highly unethical multi-year studies on a group of students. The subjects were deceived about the nature and length of the study, which aimed to discover their fundamental life philosophy and place them in highly stressful interrogations to observe their reactions to demeaning, belittling questioning. Chase provides a never-before-seen look at the experiments Harvard had tried to seal, but he never makes an ironclad case that this study was the linchpin for the creation of the Unabomber.
The book also exposes a dark side of the US military involvement in funding academic and psychological studies in the 1950's. During that time, the government wanted to fight the Cold War with propaganda and psychological manipulation. Murray's Harvard experiments descended from his military work on these subjects. By the mid-1940's a quarter of all US psychologists were serving the US military, and in the 1950's, the CIA was directly and indirectly (via dummy foundations) funding a significant portion of academic research in psychology.
Chase's book serves two important purposes--(1) revealing the true Ted Kaczynski, a brilliant and disturbed man who was judged quickly and incorrectly by the media and (2) revealing the military's significant influence on two decades of psychological research in the U.S. Chase doesn't have a smoking gun for the creation of a domestic terrorist, but he probes previously unexplored and unpublished areas in his search for answers about the genesis of Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomber.
on June 23, 2003
This is a difficult book to review without getting into a deep conversation on all matters philosophical, cultural and personal.
This is the story of Theodore Kaczynski, and it is fraught with irony. Here's A Ph.D. in mathematics with a highly scientific mind who attacks science with science (in this way he could be labeled a "metaphysician"); a man who would destroy people to save them from "the system"; a student of the humanities (literature, languages, philosophy, history) who acts inhumanely; a loner who would rather be in the wilds of Montana but now finds himself in the belly of the beast he so hated. His dissertation was on "Boundary Functions" but it seems that for all his breakthrough thinking, he malfunctioned at the moral boundary.
Finally, here is a man who dismisses morals as "mere" emotions that are irrational and without an objective, scientific foundation, who at the same time was driven by the emotions of rage, anger and revenge. If emotions and morals are invalid in the service of humanity, certainly they are invalid in the pursuit of destruction.
Alston wants to place a lot of the responsibility for the Kaczynski's anger on the General Education curriculum then taught at Harvard. I thought it strange that the books and authors Chase mentions are books by my idols! But I draw very different lessons from the works of Dostoyevsky, Melville and Mumford than does Chase. There is a lot that can be said about the Gen Ed curriculum, but based on an intense personal experience with most of the writers mentioned here, I know them to embrace humanitarian ideals and to move beyond despair. To lay the causative influence of the Unabomber here is mistaken.
The author asks: "Is intelligence evil?" Answer: No, of course not. Intelligence is a tool. Chase gives us only half of the picture when he lists all the tyrants and genocidal killers who are intelligent without also listing all the brilliant people who benefited humanity - whether that be in science, the humanities, medicine or religion. The very question is dangerous, for the anti-intellectual class would pick up on that immediately and march forth under this banner that ignorance is bliss, that the intelligent are wicked, that books should be burned, etc. etc.
Then there is Henry Murray. So what if his favorite book is Moby Dick and he has interesting nocturnal trysts with his assistant. Odd, but not evil. As far as the "dyad" is concerned, I wasn't there; but it doesn't sound any worse than the standard fraternity or military initiatory hazing. True, the CIA was up to some really strange and evil things that violated the Nuremberg Code it its investigation of mind control techniques, but the dyad does not seem to be one of those. It did use deceit - which is unethical - but otherwise I was surprised by how non-horrific the interrogations were - as presented here.
Chase like Kaczynski seems not to trust psychologists. Perhaps with good reason, since the court appointed psychologist seem to discover whatever the court wants them to discover about Ted's mental state. For the final analysis of Ted's personality, Chase turns to the Enneagram. And the Enneagram is presented as the final word on the type of person Kaczynski is. This is pseudo-science, and the author knows it. While the Enneagram seems to describe Ted rather well, it is hardly scientific. But perhaps that is just as well.
All in all, "Harvard and the Unabomber" was an absorbing read. It touched me in a deeply personal way. As a history of the Unabomber case, it's pretty good. As an analysis of the root causes to explain, "what exactly happened to Ted?" - I think the author injects far too much of his own story into this analysis and doesn't support many of his theories as to why Gen Ed, Harvard or Henry Murray caused Kaczynski to terrorize the system.
on June 26, 2003
No doubt about it: Alston Chase can write well enough
to keep my attention, but he cannot argue a point well
enough to convince me. Despite his philosophical training,
Chase cannot distinguish himself from his object:
According to Chase, a Harvard education helps explain
the disaffection and alienation that led Ted Kaczynski
to his homicidal endeavors. In particular, Chase blames
Kaczynski's participation inn the murky experiments of Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray.
But there are large gaps in Chase's theory. First, Chase
does cannot seem to find a single statement where Kaczynski expresses any hostility toward Harvard. This is significant insofar as Chase otherwise does allude to the Unabomber's journal entries.
One indication of motivation that Chase does provide (p. 342) is in the following quote from Kaczynski: "My ambition is to kill a scientist, big businessman, government official, or the like. I would also like to kill a communist."
Nothing here about killing Henry Murray. And nothing here about hating Harvard.
We know that Kaczynski targeted Berkeley, where he had worked. He sent a bomb to the University of Michigan, where he received his Ph.D. He even sent a bomb to Yale. But no, not even one to Harvard. It looks as if the Unabomber went out of his way to avoid harming Harvard.
Indeed, most of the time, we hear about Chase's discontent with his Harvard education. In a review in the Washington Post (March 2, 2003), Todd Gitlin notes how much Chase has injected his own Harvard experience into Kaczynski's life. Despite Chase's protestations to this review, Gitlin documents the fact that Chase wrongly assumed that his 1953 syllabus for a class had the same readings as the one Kaczyski followed later.
About fifteen year ago I read an essay by Alston Chase in BYU Today (August 1985). That piece is a succinct version of his book on the Unabomber, but without the Unabomber. One finds in that article lamentations about the moral relativism and alienating nature of modern civilization. And we find Chase's prescription for our malaise: Appeal to the "rightful province of faith" and a more serious consideration of teleology.
Of course, Chase ignores the fact that faith and teleology are largely responsible for the moral chaos of modern civilization. In any event, Chase apparently has now found the embodiment of alienation in Ted Kaczynski.
Yet, all is not lost for Chase's book, which manages to provide interesting musings on some intellectual trends of the post-War era.
But to the extent that he tries to be more specific about the Harvard connections, Chase fails. The book is more about Chase than about Kacyzynski's problems with Harvard. Accordingly, the book should best be titled: "Harvard and Alston Chase."
on March 22, 2003
"Harvard and the Unabomber" is intensely enlightening on many levels. It seems very even-handed and exceedingly well-researched. You don't come away from the book respecting or liking Kacynski, but you see the many layers of his personality and the main influences.
I was especially interested in the sections where the author described the "culture of despair" at Harvard that stemmed from the "crisis of reason" movement. It was also great to read about the literary works that may have contributed to Ted's alienation.
Before reading this book, I figured that he was a 60s radical and influenced by his time at Berkeley. After reading, my opinion is transformed. I'd be interested to find out whether the culture of despair is still present on college campuses today. That would be a nice appendix to the book.
The only VERY minor flaw that I found at the book was at the end when he began talking about terrorists in general. This was the section that was the least fully developed. He used quotes from bin Laden to start different chapters, but there wasn't a specific connection made, or it didn't go into as much depth. It also seemed out of place when he criticized the Bush administration; seemed like a political potshot for no reason.
I recommend this fascinating book to anyone. It really makes you think. I came out of it with many new ideas and an incentive to read works by Conrad and Dostoyevsky to see the philosophies that Kacynski misinterpreted.
on April 5, 2004
This was a terribly disappointing book. Author Alston Chase's description of the psychological experiments which Kaczynski was subjected to at Harvard is disturbing, and he makes some interesting connections between the manipulation suffered by Kaczynski and his subsequent rage at 'systems of control'.
But this potentially valuable insight gets lost in Chase's superficial and obsessive recounting of what he views as a social crisis bought on by 'value-free' education and philosphy. In the process, Chase condemns both academia and those who revolted against it, post-war society and those who pointed out it's failings, the US government and those who would try to move beyond a nation-state. By the end of the book, Chase has described Kaczynski as somehow representative of deep-ecologists, anti-globlization protestors, and even islamic fundamentalists (who, whatever their other problems, would not seem to be suffering from a 'value-free' education), all of whom (along with multiple other groups that the author doesn't like) are indiscriminately labelled 'terrorists'.
on March 18, 2003
Alston Chase wanted to write a book about the 1960s; the arrest of Ted Kaczynski suggested the topic. AC led a parallel life: public school, Harvard, many of the same courses from the same professors, graduate student and assistant professor, received a PhD, and moved to the Montana wilderness. AC found that the most transforming decade was the 1950s; the 1960s were "merely acting out a drama whose script had already been written" (p.12). The "Unabomber Manifesto" contained many of the ideas found in the lectures and readings found at Harvard and other liberal arts colleges (pp.20-21).
Virtually everything that most people believe about TK is false! His ideas date from the 1950s, not the 1960s. His decision to retreat to the wilderness was made at Harvard, not Berkeley. TK is not a revolutionary hero, nor original philosopher, not genuine environmentalist. His manifesto is neither brilliant nor a sign of mental illness, but a set of cliches whose sentiments are shared by millions (p.24). TK was not the first Harvard murderer (p.26), but had the highest body count - he used technology!
Harvard was the site of the Murray psychological experiments on undergraduates which were so unsavory and unethical as to be kept secret to this day (p.31). This book is about the dysfunctional high school environment that is still with us. It tells about the exploitation of colleges during the Cold War by the government. These forces created a culture of despair that infects the educational system and promotes patterns of violence. The purpose of this book is to understand TK as an intellectual and as a criminal.
Pages 85-94 analyze the "Unabomber Manifesto". It contains the conventional wisdom of the entire country. Its publication led to his capture since its thinking identified the author to his family. Pages 123-4 tell of the newspaper reports of his arrest. TK's habits were not dissimilar to others in his area. It tells about TK's friends in the area (pp.125-6). Page 131 shows small groups of journalists discussing how the news should be played, then filing identical stories on the trial. TK faced the death penalty, but he refused the defense of "diminished mental state" (pp.134-40). The evaluation by experts had conclusions that supported their side (p.141). Was the decision by the judge (p.147) part of a cover-up?
Chapter 11 to 13 covers General Education and the "Culture of Despair" that follows "logical positivism". Was its effect to brainwash and break down the values of the "best and the brightest" to create subservient automatons for corporate America? Could this explain the appeal of fundamentalist sects? This is the most important part of this book! Gen Ed undermined values rather than reinforced them (p.205).
Chapter 15 tells of Murray's Experiment, which violated the Nuremburg Code (p.236). Many questionnaires were used to learn the background of the subject before 'The Experiment'. Does it remind you of that interrogation in "The Darkness at Noon"? Chapter 16 tells about Henry Murray, a psychologist who couldn't cure himself. The book ends by noting that schools are even less dedicated to learning than they were, substituting political and behavioral correctness, and using drugs to do this (p.364). Are uneducated people easier to control? Is this the reason for this education?
on May 15, 2007
_Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist_ by Alston Chase, published in 2003, is an attempt to explain the motivations behind the reign of terror unleashed on the American people by Ted Kaczynski (dubbed "the Unabomber" by the FBI). Kaczynski was a brilliant man with a 170 I.Q., a graduate of Harvard University, and at one time a professor of mathematics; however, he left his career in mathematics to go live out in the wilderness of Montana. Feeling increasingly alienated by industrial society (what he refers to in his _Manifesto_ as "the system") and increasingly troubled by the loss of "wild nature" to modernization, Kaczynski felt that he was left with no way out but to unleash a reign of terror upon those who he believed were furthering the technological system. Ironically, much of Kaczynski's justification for his murders, can be found in the writings of more mainstream sociologists. A constant theme that recurs in sociological literature (the very literature that Kaczynski himself read and studied) is the sense of alienation and anomie brought about by the disruption of traditional ways of life through technological advance. Further, the modern science of ecology tells us that man has caused untold amounts of harm to nature and has disrupted the wilderness, perhaps irrepairably. Kaczynski who for years had felt himself an outsider to modern society, first as a high I.Q. student and intellectual in a largely blue collar community, then as a student from a blue collar background among upper class Harvard students, and finally as a research mathematician (a field well-known for extremes in introversion), came to identify with the environmental movement in part because of his love for the wilderness. As a "green anarchist", Kaczynski saw little hope for modern industrial society and with each technological advance saw further dangers brought to humanity and the wild. This led him to take extreme measures against those who he believed were furthering "the system". This book delves into the influences on Kaczynski's thinking: the influence of Harvard University and its curriculum (which maintained that judgment was impossible and that values were meaningless), the influence of the Cold War, the CIA, and psychological experimentation on distorting Kaczynski's underlying perceptions of reality, and ultimately the influence of the 1960s and the environmental movement. As the author repeatedly states, "bad men do what good men dream of", and for those of us who have often felt disillusioned and disaffected with modernity and "the system", there is a certain sense of "There but for the grace of God go I", when we encounter the case of Kaczynski. There is also a sense of embarrassment felt by many who find that the very ideas they have been advocating are taken to their logical extreme by an individual like Kaczynski. Modern technological society has left many feeling profoundly alienated, and the loss of wilderness and traditional ways of life has only furthered this alienation. Those who champion "the system" and naively accept the idea of "progress" frequently scoff at such notions as "primitivism"; however, they then refuse to see the manifold harm that has been wrought upon nature and society by their own advances. It must be said though that while this book does appear to be somewhat sympathetic to Kaczynski and his ideas and way of life, it ultimately must not fall short in condemning his methods for attaining his goals as cowardly and futile. Further, I believe the author should not so readily dismiss the notion of "mental illness" in the case of Kaczynski. Kaczynski was obviously an extremely introverted and hyper-sensitive (he feared loud noises for example) individual whose inability to fit into modern society was readily apparent. As a society we have no other way of dealing with such people than to label them as "mentally ill". Further, it seems likely that there is some sort of underlying biological basis for such tendencies; though, the extent to which this biological basis operates is difficult to determine.
The author begins by discussing the crimes of the Unabomber. Noting his bomb-making skills and also noting some of the obscure influences on his ideas. For example, Kaczynski was obviously a fan of the novelist Joseph Conrad (a fellow Pole), and particularly enjoyed his _The Secret Agent_. Kaczynski signed his manifesto with the epithet "FC", which may have been taken from _The Secret Agent_. Kaczynski also advocated the "scientific method" and philosophically was a rationalist and strict positivist, though he ironically saw science and technology as destructive forces. Other instances of Kaczynski's intellectual games, include the recurrence of the word "wood" in his destructive acts. The author also explains various aspects of Kaczynski's "mountain man" existence which were distorted by the media. For example, Kaczynski was portrayed by the media as a "loner" (though he was known and liked by a few individuals who lived near him) and a "slob" (though his cabin was as neat as a pin).
Following this, the author turns to the influence of Harvard on Ted Kaczynski. The author notes the fact that Kaczynski was from a blue collar community, in which he was an outsider both as a consequence of his high intelligence and strong mathematical aptitude and because his family were intellectuals. Kaczynski subsequently attended Harvard, where he remained largely alienated. At Harvard, Kaczynski faced a General Curriculum which de-emphasized the underpinnings of Western Civilization and Christian values instead promoting materialistic nihilism. Further, at the time the Cold War was raging, so intelligent individuals like Kaczynski were forced into mathematics and scientific related fields (something which Kaczynski always held against his parents). It was while he was at Harvard that Kaczynski participated in a psychological experiment directed by Henry A. Murray (who was influential in the early CIA). This experiment sought to assess alienation and may have promoted a breakdown in the mind of Kaczynski. At the time, the CIA was engaging in many reckless policies, including unlawful and unethical experimentation with LSD and other drugs and mind control (something that Kaczynski would make note of in his _Manifesto_). Kaczynski left Harvard to become a graduate student at Michigan and then a professor at Berkeley before dropping out of mainstream society and returning to the wilderness.
In terms of philosophical influences, Kaczynski was a voracious reader. Principally though his writings seem to be distortions and perversions of the ideas of radical localists and anarchists such as Jacques Ellul (particularly _The Technological Society_) and E. F. Schumacher. Kaczynski also was influenced by primitivism, and the author distinguishes between different kinds of primitivism in the writings of sociologists and in Kaczynski himself. Kaczysnki's thinking also appeared to resonate with radical environmentalists such as the Earth Liberation Front, EarthFirst!, Edward Abbey (writer of _The Monkey Wrench Gang_), and anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan.
It is an unfortunate and sad fact that Kaczynski found himself so alienated by society that he chose to lash out as he did. His methods of attacking the system were indeed cowardly and deplorable, and ultimately only resulted in the deaths of many innocents. He achieved little by way of halting progress or restoring the wilderness which he loved so much. This book is a good book in attempting to understand the motivations of Kaczynski. Ultimately to prevent such atrocities in the future, it will be necessary for society to rethink itself, for people to be less greedy, and to achieve a viable alternative to modern materialistic decline. Whether or not such a reversal can be accomplished at all remains to be seen.
Alston Chase argues that Ted Kaczynski was not insane, that he was not a hermit, and that his Unabomber Manifesto was a well-written and well-thought out critique of our technological society.
Chase is especially hard on the news media, whom he claims got just about everything wrong. He names names, the NEW YORK TIMES, NEWSWEEK, AND TIME MAGAZINE garnering their share of criticism. Chase claims Kaczynski was no worse than any other math whiz until he got to Harvard, where he volunteered for Henry A. Murray's "Multiform Assessments of Personality Development" experiment with twenty-one other elite students. The subjects were told to write an essay expounding on their philosophy of life which would be debated by an aggressive young lawyer. According to Chase, Kaczynski was humiliated by this experience, having nightmares about psychologists chasing him. Eventually Kaczynski would target psychologists versed in behavior modification.
Chase doesn't spend much time on biography, but he does show Kaczynski growing up in Evergreen Park, Illinois, the first child of intellectual parents, whom he later blames for pushing him too hard. After skipping two grades in school, he arrives at Harvard totally lacking in social skills. Apparently he never grew up. We see him later on writing obscene lyrics on the walls at Foam Cutting Engineers after a woman he had fallen in love with spurns him.
Alston Chase indicts the curriculum at Harvard during the time Kaczynski spent there as co-conspirators, especially something called positivism, the theory that only empirically verifiable statements are meaningful, that moral and spiritual judgments, not being verifiable, are mere "cognitively meaningless expressions of emotion." Kaczynski would use this as a philosophical underpinning for what he did.
Chase's argues that Ted Kaczynski is far from alone in his hatred toward technology. Most all terrorists hate modern technological civilization, many of them living right here in the United States. Just one example the December 1999 "Battle of Seattle" at the World Trade Organization meeting, where ecosaboteurs ran amok.
This sort of happening may be closer to home than you might think. I have to admit that I wasn't aware of the Earth Liberation Front's 2002 attack on the University of Minnesota's future genetic research center that caused $630,000 in damages.
Chase's conclusion sums things up quite effectively. He cautions against intellectual pride, that seduces people (politicians, psychologists, educators) into believing "that they have a right to decide what's best for others." Right on, brother!
on June 6, 2011
The first third of this book is a detailed recitation of the crimes of the Unabomber. It is all old material: reorganized, recategorized and rationalized, but essentially a recitation of things we already knew, or might have known had we been adequately interested to follow the story carefully. I found this part of the book uninteresting.
The second part of the book, on the other hand, was fascinating. It details the experiences of Kapinsky at Harvard, where he was a brilliant student, and in particular a participant (victim?) in a series of quite outrageous and unethical experiments conducted by a highly distinguished Professor of psychology, himself, we learn, a pillar of the Harvard and American establishment-- and a sadist, a sexual weirdo and in other ways a nut-case almost as far out as Kapinsky. (Think of the various outrageous experiments in the 30's 40's and 50's conducted by "reputable" scientists on lepers, prisoners, Black people and other unsuspecting populations, often leading to death or permanent impairment.)
The real story of this book --perhaps not told as clearly as it might be, but nevertheless told well, is that Kapinsky was not an isolated crazy but merely a more extreme Luddite, a back-to-nature enviormentalist only one small step away from an entire movement of his times, namely the tree huggers, the Vermont-is-Paradisers and other miscellaneous enviornmental extremists.
In other words, the book very precisely places Kapinsky in the context of his culture. And in this context he comes across as someone unquestionably sane, quite brilliant and as the forceful (to say the least) articulater of a particular intellectual point of view: a point of view that is, when heard in other, non murderous contexts, eminently respectable. (But I would have liked to hear the author's opinion on how an enviornmental extremist goes from hugging trees to murdering people. Doesn't this qualify as some kind of insanity, contrary to Kapinsky's most urgently presented arguments?)
I found the author's analysis fascinating, compelling and persuasive. My only quibble is that he handles Harvard, and indeed the entire American academic establishment, too delicately for my taste. After documenting the incredible extent to which American education was (and still is?) financially dependant on secret CIA grants, he doesn't really call for change. And worst of all, he is only discreetly critical of Harvard for allowing these experiments, for stonewalling him when he sought information and for closing ranks around the distinguished Professor Murray, who was definitively One Of Their Own--and apparently a world class sleazebag.
But this is a quibble. The book is a fascinating exegesis of Kapinsky as a lens through which we can view the larger society, and the reader comes away, not with any sympathy for Kapinsky (after all, there is a serious disinction between a tree hugger and a cold-blooded killer) but certainly with a much deeper understanding of the killer and his culture.
I thought this was a very interesting and intelligent book. I recommend it highly.