John Temple’s American Pain describes the rise and fall of America’s largest pill mill. A pill mill, in case you didn’t know, is a medical practice set up specifically to dispense narcotic pain killers. Patient appointments typically last only a few minutes, just long enough for doctor to write the prescription. Chris George, the wealthy son of a successful South Florida builder, was running a semi-successful shop selling anabolic steroids when he started seeing pain clinics pop up all over Broward County around 2008.
Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin describes the rise and fall of the darknet market The Silk Road, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht. The book focuses primarily on Ulbricht and a handful of agents from the DEA, FBI, IRS, and Homeland Security who wage a semi-coordinated effort to identify and capture the Silk Road leader, who was known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas, a middle-class kid with strong libertarian leanings.
The Body Keeps the Score describes what Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk has seen and learned in his thirty-plus years of treating trauma survivors. The author describes the causes and manifestations of trauma in a number of patients from his clinical practice: abused children, combat veterans, victims of accidents, rape, and assault. He describes how the intense emotional impact of trauma can linger for years when the mind is unable to assimilate the unbearable terror of events.
The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, describes the looting of Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund by con man Jho Low and his associates. Although this story has been in the news for years, and many are familiar with its outlines, the book provides rich details about a series of financial crimes whose scope and audacity is breathtaking. Jho Low came from a family in Penang provice, Malaysia, that had enough money to send him to boarding school at Harrow, where he met the children of some of the world’s richest families.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing tells the story of the 1906 murder of famed American architect Stanford White, who was shot to death before a crowd of New York’s elite at the opening night performance of a play at Madison Square Garden, one of the city’s architectural landmarks, which he himself designed. After the shooting, White’s assailant, the young millionaire Harry K. Thaw handed his pistol to a fireman and calmly walked to the police station in the company of a single officer.
It’s hard to write of a review of Alan Watts’ books because there’s so much in them. It’s like trying to summarize the ocean. Each time I re-read one of his works, I come away with something different. So I’m not going to try to encapsulate all that Watts says. Instead, I’ll just described what impressed me in this reading, using mostly Watts’ own words, since he can express himself better than I can paraphrase him.
This book reads like a transcription of talks given before live audiences. The initial chapters read like the joke-filled exhortations of a professional self-help writer, but the book begins to deepen around pages 60-70. De Mello was a Jesuit priest, a trained psychologist, and apparently a devoted student of both Eastern and Western religion. His knowledge is broad and deep, and he has obviously brought great passion to his learning.
Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl is a memoir of emotional need in which the author recounts the compulsive sexual promiscuity of her teens and twenties and the underlying feelings of loneliness and desperation that drove that behavior. I was friends with a few girls like her during my own teens and twenties, and I had no idea they were feeling any of the things Cohen describes. The value of this book lies exactly there, in her exposure of the underlying feelings and thought patterns that drive the behavior.
David Howard’s Chasing Phil follows the story of two agents from the FBI’s Gary, Indiana office who go undercover to infiltrate a ring of stunningly audacious and startlingly successful con men in the mid-1970s. When agents Jack Brennan and J.J. Wedick get a tip about a guy who ripped off a pizza store owner with bogus loan papers, they ask permission from their supervisor to go undercover. The idea was to record the con man, Phil Kitzer, making incriminating statements and possibly mentioning the names of other scammers the FBI could pursue.
When I read Robin DiAngelo’s article How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace, I had the same hostile reaction she described seeing in so many of her workshop participants. I came away from it thinking, “Of course people are going to be angry with you if you try to put the Klansman’s hood on them.” White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo The article got under my skin in a way few things do, and I was still thinking about it months later when someone on a mailing list recommended White Fragility.
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