on August 7, 2000
It's clear right from the start that Mad Genius was written in a hurry. The writing is uneven in places, there are stylistic rough edges, but this is no novel, and if Kaczynski would like a nicer biography he'll just have to write one himself. Still, the book is timely, and important, and sufficiently well written to make for easy reading.
The book helps answer many questions about the Unabomber:
- What are the facts of the case? [ not a trivial question for such a protracted case ]
- What is the Ted Kaczynski's background? Who is he, where did he come from, could anyone have guessed that this is what he was up to?
- Why he did it -- motives, frustrations, ideas.
And that's basically all that most people will ever want to know about the unabomber and his story. The book will also give you plenty of minutia to relish over, such as his the inventory of his cabin at the time of the arrest, what "technology" (or lack thereof) did he use to assemble his bombs, and it lists his manifesto in full. The book is not expensive and read quickly -- get it, read it, satisfy your morbid curiosity! :)
on April 26, 1999
Have yet to find a really thoughtful, well organized book on the Unabomber. I read a fair number of true-crime books; generally I rate Robert Graysmith, who has written excellent books about the Zodiac killer and the Trailside Killer. Those books were well written, full of fascinating facts and research. But Graysmith's Unabomber book "A Desire to Kill" was obviously rushed into print, trying to beat the competition -- an effort to have a title before the public before the trial, while interest in the case was high.
Much the same can be said of Mad Genius. It was also published before the trial. It isn't quite as confusing as Graysmith's book, but then it doesn't strive to be more than a quick summary of what the investigation was like and who the victims were. To make up for lack of depth and/or detail, there is an extremely long list of the evidence seized at the Montana cabin -- with no explanation for what the coded notations the FBI used stand for. And then there's the complete manifesto, appended at the end. My favorite part was the photocopy of the Kazynski's hand-written note about seeds at the very end. At least it had a personal touch.
The definitive Unabomer book has yet to be written; it would take someone like Vincent Bugliosi or Ann Rule to do it justice -- or else the Robert Graysmith of old.