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4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing & Careful Analysis Of The Unabomber's Genesis!, July 16, 2003
This review is from: Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist (Hardcover)
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!
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