David Kaczynski’s new memoir, Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family, is a compassionate and complex story of one family’s path from anguish to understanding. For Duke University Press editor Gisela Fosado, the project began one afternoon in 2012, when she happened to tune into a radio program featuring Kaczynski, a poet and social-justice activist:
A few years ago, I heard David speak on All Things Considered in an episode called “When Your Family Member Does the Unthinkable.” This was just after the James Holmes shooting tragedy in Colorado and during a time when much of the media were turning to stories about mental illness and violence. During the story, David recounted the difficult moment when he and his partner, Linda, decided to turn in David’s brother, Ted, to the FBI, since they had begun to suspect that he was the Unabomber. David also spoke about his career in social-justice advocacy and his anti-death-penalty work in New York—issues that interest me as well.
For days after hearing that story, I kept thinking how remarkable it was that David had managed to befriend his brother’s victims. This work of bridging broken bonds within communities in the aftermath of violence was, in fact, at the heart of his life’s work. I decided to reach out to him by e-mail. It seemed like a long shot, but I hoped that he would be willing to write a book sharing his story and expanding on his ideas on restorative justice.
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise (Grand Central), the posthumous novel of Duke professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos, was completed shortly before his death in 2013. The real-life friendship between explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Mark Twain takes a fictional detour down the Mississippi and into Cuba.
Civil rights activist and former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James A. Joseph reveals lessons in leadership in Saved for a Purpose: A Journey from Private Virtues to Public Values (Duke University Press). Joseph is professor emeritus of public policy at Duke.
Duke law professor Jedediah Purdy’s environmental tome, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (Harvard University Press), is earning comparisons to Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring.
The wonders of evolution are explored in Nicholas School professor Michael Tennesen’s The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man (Simon & Schuster).
Who better than Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy and current Rubenstein Fellow at Duke, to write about world energy consumption? In Lighting the World: Transforming Our Energy Future by Bringing Electricity to Everyone (St. Martin’s Press), Rogers offers experienced perspective on energy innovation.
David Drake J.D. ’72, a Vietnam veteran who was drafted during law school, says his first book, Hammer’s Slammers, was “essentially the Eleventh Cavalry with ray guns.” After practicing law for eight years, he turned to writing full time. He credits Duke Law School with introducing him to the importance of logic—so useful in crafting the alternate realities in his military sci-fi novels. His latest, Air and Darkness (Tor), owes a debt to the following short stories and novels that inspired him:
Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard
Howard is as good a storyteller as the field has ever seen. Reading his vivid, fast-moving narratives made me want to write.
Clash by Night and Fury (as well as other stories) by Henry Kuttner
A master of fantasy and horror, Kuttner offers gorgeous, detailed—both in natural history and in culture—settings that feed his top-drawer plots.
The Angry Planet by John Keir Cross
Children stow away on the first spaceship to Mars (built in their uncle’s barn) only to find themselves in the middle of the battle between the forces of good and evil. (Spoiler: Evil wins.) This was a profound lesson for me at age eleven.
The Last Planet by Andre Norton
Norton, the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, shows a future so distant that people know of Earth only by legends. The conceit opened my eyes to the fact that the world—my world—was as transitory a place as Norton’s Nineveh or ancient Rome.
FICTION MORE POTENT THAN TRUTH
A physician and a philosopher reflect on why they decided to turn lessons from the exam room and classroom into novels
After his provocative nonfiction book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality was panned by critics, Duke philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg decided to recast his big idea—namely that the sciences could answer many of philosophy’s great questions—as a wartime epic. The Girl From Krakow (Lake Union Publishing) takes readers from Paris in the ’30s to Moscow, Warsaw, and Nazi Germany, all the while exploring philosophical terrain:
We love stories. Narratives of the sort that we can remember, that identify people’s motives, tell us about their decisions and choices, hold our attention, and drive our emotions. But the trouble with narratives, whether nonfiction or fiction, is that they never correctly identify the real causes of human behavior—the ones that neuroscience is only now beginning to understand. This is a pretty wild claim.
Few people even noticed it in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, fewer understood it, and (almost) no one accepted it. I decided if I was going to get many more people even to think about this argument I was going to have to package it in a very different way. I was going to have to tell a story.
Many years ago I edited the war memoirs of my mother, Blanca Rosenberg, To Tell at Last (University of Illinois Press). Blanca had survived the war by using a false identity. It came to me that I could use the trajectory of my mother’s life from 1935 to 1947 to convey my apparently hard-to-understand, harder-to-accept theory by putting it into the head of a young woman trying to come to grips with the horrors of the war. Never mind my late mother never had any of these thoughts as she struggled for survival. Novelists are allowed to take license.
Pediatric oncologist and Duke professor Raymond Barfield made his fiction debut with The Book of Colors (Unbridled Books), a stark and tender novel narrated by Yslea, a young woman whose voice was inspired by some of Barfield’s patients. He explains the connection between his two callings:
Writing makes me a better doctor, and being a doctor makes me a better writer. Stories are at the heart of my work. I tell my residents to stay curious about the stories of their patients, if they want to become great doctors.
In the hospital, storytelling is literally a matter of life and death. If a patient’s story doesn’t get told well, all sorts of terrible things can happen. The world of medicine is not built with shiny machines, knives, and bags of Latinate-named intravenous fluids— those things are part of medicine, of course—but it’s the stories that situate the person, account for the past, and actually guide the decisions a doctor makes with an ill or dying person.
The deepest moments of being a doctor and the deepest moments of being a writer feel similar to me. Whatever outward signs of authority medicine claims for itself—white coats, corridors with “Do Not Enter” signs, and promises of various tenuous miracles—doctors are often lost, if they have any sense about them. Or lost-ish. I think the same is true for writers.