20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2005
Mind for Murder is an excellent book by Alston Chase. This book has two main components to it. The first component deals with the life and demise of Ted Kaczynski. The author gives us descriptions of Ted's early years as a child, his high school years, and spends a great deal of time expounding on Ted's time spent at Harvard.
In the author's description of Ted's early years we our shown Ted grew to despise his parents pressuring him to excel academically. His resentment was especially strong toward his father who seemed to remain aloof and somewhat nihilistic till he committed suicide. Ted also resented his mother Wanda because he felt she intentionally subjected him to psychological abuses as a child. These feelings seemed to stay with Ted and even grow as Ted embarked on his college career.
The second component of this book is a cultural analysis that centers around the time period Ted would have been at Harvard and proffers reasons why Ted and others in our modern times have felt the need to resort to terrorism. The author explains how Universities like Harvard used to place a strong emphasis on liberal arts education. Education that was paired with moral virtue. This way of thinking is found in the thoughts of the ancient Greeks who thought reason had to be bound with moral virtue. However, in the 1950s with World War II just having ended and the Cold War looming the universities seemed to adopt the stance of logical positivism. The idea that if something isn't scientifically verifiable it has no meaning. In other words, moral judgments are just the cultural attitudes of the time. Ted would have encountered this line of nihilistic thinking at Harvard. Is it any wonder in later years he would adopt and expound his personal philosophy to mean any ends justified the means? This is especially poignant considering moral judgments to Ted seemed to be just a bunch of efforts at psychological control by the system.
Chase later gives us insightful details of how Ted was used at Harvard by Henry Murray for a psychological experiment. Ted and some other Harvard students at the time were participants in an experiment to submit these persons to dreadful psychological interrogation experiments. The Govt. at this time was very concerned with finding out how to treat or even coerce political prisoners into doing what they wanted. Even going so far as to study and try to learn how to keep the masses under control. Chase gives us historical insight into the Govt. intentionally trying out "new" drugs like LSD on college students, prison inmates, and anyone else it so fancied because surely the Russians had a secret "mind control" drug like this to coerce confessions out of POWs. Ted resented his being tested (even if he was being paid for it) and came to view the techno-industrial system as guilty of imposing unnecessary suffering on the masses. Mind control, feeling like a cog in the machine, depression, irritability, lack of leisure, pollution, were all some of the things Ted blamed on the techno-industrial system. The only way to stop these unjust grievances was to lash out against the system. Even killing if necessary which is just what Ted did.
This is a sad book in some ways but it's a more important work in many other ways. It tells what happens when value gets subjugated below reason. It tells how the culture suffers when ideas like deconstructionism, logical positivism, and structuralism so permeate our culture that nothing has any meaning. Until academics and the culture in general start accepting the fact that reason is only half the puzzle; there is always yin with yang, objectivity with subjectivity, and mind with matter in any accurate depiction of reality. Until we understand these principles and adopt a more holistic approach to reality we are perhaps bound to repeat these same mistakes-the devaluing of society to utter meaninglessness. Worst of all, the suffering of innocents by acts of terrorism and the dependence on antidepressants will continue to be a prominent part of life.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2004
Though Chase does seem to suffer a need to attack what he views as the outcome of "value-free" education, I do not think the book suffers as much from this insistence as does the previous reviewer. In fact, there is much to be gained from such a study.
Chase's book is an admirable study of both the Unabomber and the postwar currents that converged to contribute to the making of the Unabomber. Thankfully, Chase is wise enough not to offer excuses for Kaczynski's actions, but his research into what made Kaczynski "tick" provide a believable backdrop and a necessary antidote to the popular misconception of the Unabomber as a madman devoid of reason or motive.
And rather than finding fault with Chase's attempt to tie the Unabomber's actions and theories to those of other "terrorist" groups, I found his arguments convincing, especially in regards to the pervasiveness of the positivistic, supremely rational curriculum of Western universities and the devaluing of the humanities.
We need more thinkers and researchers like Chase who are willing to make us question our kneejerk reactions to men who make us as uncomfortable as Kaczynski.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2012
Also, excellent insight into the darker side of the field of psychology and its alliance with the CIA (no, I'm not making that up and I'm not a conspiracy theorist- read it for yourself). What started out as a well-intended war effort during WWII morphed into some Cold War weirdness and breaches of the Nuremberg code.
Chase has researched and contextualized all angles of not only Kaczynski, but so many other troubling issues as well. Hard to sum it all up; but the phrase "the origins of modern terrorism" is a good way to put it, as does the subtitle.
The chapters on Henry Murray were so fascinating; more so even than those about TK himself. This was basically the man who helped invent personality tests you may have taken to get jobs, and man, was he twisted. One of his former friends even implies he may've drowned his mistress after having an S&M affair in which he, the dom, wore drag and explored his dark side, ostensibly to 'study' interpersonal relationships. He basically had no professional boundaries. Also, this research sort of opened the door to the American Psychological Association being consulted for torture techniques in Guantanamo. So even though the Unabomber is no longer in the limelight, these issues still matter.
Very readable, very informative.
Post-script: I'd have to agree with another reviewer who criticised Chase's all-encompassing theories on modern terrorism and all of the different factions/causes. Kaczynski really doesn't quite fit in so well as Chase asserts; the chapters on his involvement with Henry Murray's shattering (to TK) psychology experiments (which violated informed consent codes) really put TK into a different category, psychologically. Chase attempts to lump all terrorism under a failure of modern academia and a cynical lack of humanism, and existential emptiness-- but that doesn't really account for groups like Al Queda which comes from a completely different cultural and psychological angle (which Benjamin Barber presciently forsaw in the insightful, if repetitive, "Jihad vs. McWorld".) Also, I think the concept of the 'natural man' or whatever you want to call it, could be traced back to Rousseau, and you can't blame modernism and postmodernism for the old romantic 'noble savage' myth that tends to resurface now and again in anti-technology/industrialist thought, albeit in a much more sophisticated presentation.
Chase succumbs to the usual weakness of the cultural commentator who squeezes all phenomenon into one supposed 'trend', to make a point and underscore a hypothesis. But life just isn't like a tidy essay with a thesis and supporting evidence; human behavior is much messier and more complex.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2012
This review is primarily to note that the books A Mind for Murder: The Education of the Unabomber and the Origins of Modern Terrorism and Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist is the same book published under different names and should not be confused with two separate books, nor is the latter an updated version of the former. At least not to my knowledge. They are, however, the same book, and this is not made very clear at Amazon, and it appears they have separate ISBN numbers.
That being said, this book is without doubt the best source for information on Kaczynski, and manages to be both academic and thrilling without falling into the traps of being sensational or judgemental.
Chase calmly retells the story of how Theodore Kaczynski became the Unabomer/Unabomber.
I have been fascinated with Kaczynski since 2003, discovering that for all the terrible things he did, his views on society are healthy, rational and valid. The only real valid criticism of Kaczynski's ideas is that they are not as original as he purports them to be.
That being said, this book together with "Technological Slavery" reveals beyond doubt that there is a culture out there who agrees with Kaczynski, and that there are countless academics who readily will support his ideas, though not his actions.
Chase traces the problem to its source, the corner stone of any such publication, manages to reveal every detail of the evolution of a terrorist, and how things ended up like they did.
Equally valuable is the first two-three chapters which draw important, though obvious, parallels and connections with Kaczynski and the romantic notion of the outsider (especially comparing Kaczynski to Colin Wilson's The Outsider, and to Camus' The Stranger).
This book, unlike the few others, does not sensationalize nor condemn. This book is not about a dangerous terrorist who should be persecuted; But about a sensitive intelligent man who somehow got off track, with deadly results. To paraphrase David Edwards (author of "Free to Be Human") Kaczynski's condition is not a case of good or evil, but about someone "missing the mark"; Getting entangled in some abstract web and ending up willing to kill for peace... And he is not the first and certainly not the last who would "kill for peace".
on November 2, 2013
No book I have read recently has made me think more and want to read more. I knew little or nothing about the rise of General Ed, the rationale behind it, Truman's involvement and nothing about Murray, his experiments and the extent of government involvement with the the various elite universities in various departments. For those who blame Obama for everything related to our government spying on us...this should be compelling reading. This ain't a new phenomenon guys!! Been going on for decades.
I found the book appalling and enthralling. Made me want to re-read Conrad and Eugene O'Neill. Is Kaczynki right...yes...in many ways..are his methods totally unacceptable...and does he belong where he is...without question. Chase's picture of Kaczynski ...made so compelling by his pathetic self pitying letters to his family really flesh out this man...brilliant, immature and violent..but not crazy...just desperately neurotic. This is a sad book and made me very reflective about how I think...and how I do not want to think. Apartness from other human beings and where that can take me even within my own family. The importance of contemplation before action is taken.
Chase's comments about where intellect without morality can lead us are fascinating and that many of the tyrants of the 20th century were incredibly bright...Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and those tried at Nuremberg...yet they killed over 100 million. ..made me think about how I can dehumanize those I disagree with.....It is easy to demonize our opponents and see them as less than human and expendable. Again...I cannot recommend this book more highly.
Thank you Dr. Chase...I loved the book!!
on January 11, 2015
I'd like to focus on a single aspect of this book, Chase's description of the poet Gerald Burns. It borders on slandrous and is certainly a mis-characterization of Burns's attitudes toward both himself and Kaczynski. That is the single area covered by the book where I have specific and personal knowledge, and it is deeply rotten. That makes me wonder whether the rest of the book is as shoddy and foul.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2011
Chase's book on the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is divided into three sections: the life of Kaczynski (including the bombing attacks), the psychological experiments that characterized his youth while at Harvard and shaped his psyche, and the ultimate effect of Kaczynski, including why he ultimately became who he was. Chase does an excellent job at presenting these components:
-Source material is well-written (the psychological experiments at Harvard are well-documented, as is the rest of the book)
-Chase has an eye for the overall picture of Kaczynski's life, focusing more upon why he developed into a serial killer than the actual attacks themselves
-The section on psychological experiments, while it may seem to be out of place, is accurately described and is further explained in the context of Kaczynski's life throughout the rest of the book, including its impact upon his anarchist, anti-establishment philosophy.
-The author does an excellent job at relating how Kaczynski escaped capture as his philosophy continued to evolve in the wilderness (connection with Henry David Thoreau is also made)
All-in-all this is a very good read. Chase delves into Kaczynski's mind to a large degree, seeking to answer the question as to why an intelligent former professor would so suddenly move into the wilderness to begin a path towards murder.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2011
In this study Chase, a former Philosophy Professor, carefully compares the public image of Kaczynski with what is known and what Kaczynski himself has revealed and finds the public image wanting.
The popular perception of the Kaczynski is of the ex-professor rebelling against technological society - a political activist of a green-anarchist stripe. It was this perception that led to Kaczynski's name being put forward as a write-in candidate in the 1996 US presidential campaign. For these and many others Kaczynski was a heroic and often lone figure standing in the way of technological progress and its accompanying societal technological disintegration. Chase reports that to this day Kaczynski maintains a high level of written correspondence with such folks. In Chase's revisionist account such ideological kinship is to a large extent developed after the fact. But this is not just a biography - although, to the extent that it is it is also a biography of Chase himself for as the author often points out, Kaczynski was not one of a kind but a social phenomenon.
A Mind to Murder is also a book about education and, rather more tenuously, terrorism. Chase's argument plays itself out in two arenas: the biographical and the pedagogical. Chase surveys Kaczynski's early life, his excellent academic record (he was according to Chase an almost bona fide mathematical genius) and his rebellion against the expected career path in academia (I will expand on this a little later) and his decision to move to rural - although emphatically not wilderness - Montana. Front and centre of this aspect of Kaczynski's story is, quite rightly, his crimes - his intent to murder, oftentimes arbitrarily. Apologetic surveys of Kaczynski's life do not make up for 16 injuries and three fatalities his actions caused.
What Chase does very well is extricate Theodore Kaczynski the academically brilliant but otherwise decidedly average man from the Unabomber `Othering', namely the media invention of a complete loner divorced from all social interaction. It is the second main thesis of the book, namely the pedagogical focus, that explains why a philosopher has taken an interest in Kaczynski. This plays itself itself in two ways - the culture of despair of 1950s academia and the psychological - and bullying - tests Kaczynski was subjected to by Harvard faculty whilst a student there. It is the latter in which Chase has made both his most convincing argument and most suspect argument.
The former relates to Chases account of the psychological experiments Kaczynski experienced by psychologists working for Henry A Murray, a psychologist pivotal in development of psychological profiling. These experiments were, if Chase's account is to believed amount to little short of mental torture in the truest sense of the term. And, put simply, it is quite conceivable that an already toubled individual would be pushed over the edge by what Murray conducted with ostensibly no pastoral aftercare. In the process Chase recounts the fascinating although largely tangential account of academia's co-option by the US's Security Apparatus and its lack of critical distance.
But for all the tangents of the book, of which there are many, it is the figure of Kaczynski that is supposed to be its subject. It is strange then that although important clarifications to the popular portrayal that Chase makes the book is decidedly ambiguous regarding its opinion of Kaczynski's crimes: Is Kaczynski a mere murderer, or was the primary aim political vis a vis is kaczynski a terrorist? Certainly Kaczynski had political views and these views were the relayed in the course of his campaign but quoting Kaczynski's diary Chase suggests that Kaczynski's motive "was personal revenge", and that he did not "pretend to any kind of philosophical or moralistic justification" (p. 342). This is in keeping with Chase's broader argument in the book. In spite of this unless one deems terrorism apolitical (at which point the term loses its utility) how is it that Chase can later bluntly state of Kaczynski "He is a terrorist" (p. 360).
This is the failing of Chase's argument, surprising for a philosopher - inconsistency. This coupled with the consistent excursions into the history of US Universities make A Mind for Murder a harder work than it should have been. However, for all that Chase has produced what I am sure is the definitive account Kacynski's crimes. That however is not its central contribution - this lies in the post-morterm of the crimes where we discoverthat which drove Kacynski, the fear of rejection, need for recognition etc is decidedly normal. He may have been an Outsider (a la Colin Wilson) but he is one of many - he is not unique but a symptom of a wider malaise.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2007
A Mind for Murder is a compelling look into what contributed to the creation of the monster known as the Unabomber. It begins in the earlier years of Kaczynski and logs personal event and how these events contributed to his psyche as a murder when he grew. One of the most compelling insights in the book is how he is thought to be insane and a madman. Kaczynski Knew what he was doing and did not what to be declared as insane because his environmental/anti-technology cause would be thought a joke. He took a plea bargain in order to keep the defense from declaring him mentally unstable. I was a amazed at the book and the great insight and detail it portrayed. If you are interested in Domestic Terrorism this is a must read.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2008
This book is useful as required reading for college students if the professor would like to help get the students past the trivial debates about whether Ted Kaczynski was a serial killer, ecoterrorist, or what. Far too often, attempts at criminological writing reduce to an essay on a "How crazy were they?" and this book helps correct that, making sense out of an episode in American history which frequently baffles explanation. For a taste of the author's writing, one should look for much of the same writing easily found on the web as a series of articles in The Atlantic.