Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Genius on the Edge by Dr. Gerald Imber

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Genius on the Edge
by Dr. Gerald Imber

Hardback: 412 pages
Publisher: Kaplan Publishing
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Book Description (from publisher's website):
A major new biography of the doctor who invented modern surgery. Brilliant, driven, but haunted by demons, William Stewart Halsted took surgery from a horrific, dangerous practice to what we now know as a lifesaving art.

Halsted was born to wealth and privilege in New York City in the mid-1800s. He attended the finest schools, but he was a mediocre student. His academic interests blossomed at medical school and he quickly became a celebrated surgeon. Experimenting with cocaine as a local anesthetic, he became addicted. He was hospitalized and treated with morphine to control his craving for cocaine. For the remaining 40 years of his life he was addicted to both drugs.

Halsted resurrected his career at Johns Hopkins, where he became the first chief of surgery. Among his accomplishments, he introduced the residency training system, the use of sterile gloves, the first successful hernia repair, radical mastectomy, fine silk sutures, and anatomically correct surgical technique. Halsted is without doubt the father of modern surgery, and his eccentric behavior, unusual lifestyle, and counterintuitive productivity in the face of lifelong addiction make his story unusually compelling.

Gerald Imber, a renowned surgeon himself, evokes Halsted’s extraordinary life and achievements and places them squarely in the historical and social context of the late 19th century. The result is an illuminating biography of a complex and troubled man, whose genius we continue to benefit from today.

Genius on the Edge is an interesting book describing the medical developments (especially in surgery) during the period of about 1846 to 1922. The first third of the book mainly focused on what surgery was like before this period, on the developments that occurred from 1846 to 1889, and how they affected Halsted's medical training and prompted his surgical innovations. The rest of the book was more a series of short biographies of men who worked with Halsted and the developments they (and he) brought to the practice of surgery from 1889-1922. It also covered Halsted's marriage and how he lived.

The author didn't assume that the reader was familiar with medical terms and so concisely worked that information in as was needed to understand the innovations. He did an excellent job of making the topic fascinating and easy to understand. I found the book a quick read despite the amount of information packed into it. I also liked how the author wove the general technological changes and social setting into the story so we could see how society effected the advances and how Halsted and the others influenced society in turn. While the book mostly focused on American surgery (especially that done at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), the author also brought up related advances over in Europe.

There were only a couple of brief descriptions of actual surgery, so most of the book probably wouldn't bother those who get queasy by descriptions of operations.

Some of the topics covered were: the introduction of general anesthetics, heat sterilization, and antiseptics to make surgery safer. How medical training had been done and how it changed (both in medical school and post-graduate) under the influence of Halsted and his friends at Johns Hopkins. The creation of out-patient clinics, the beginnings of bacteriology and the germ theory, the change from quick and brutal surgery to gentle, careful handing during surgery, the introduction of surgical gloves, of using cocaine as a local anesthetic, emergency blood transfusion, surgery of the brain, and much more.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written and interesting book to those interested in how medicine (especially surgery) has developed into what we take for granted today.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
WILLIAM STEWART HALSTED WAS born in New York City on April 23, 1852, in the decade of booming mercantile prosperity and civic unrest preceding the Civil War. Immigrants seeking to escape famine and poverty in their native lands poured into the city at an astounding rate, often as many as 250,000 in a single year. The new arrivals, then largely Irish, supplanted free blacks as an inexpensive labor source, and the slums were soon overrun. Only half the children born in the entire country would live to the age of five. More New Yorkers were dying from disease each year than were being born. Two cholera epidemics in the 1830s and 1840s had claimed thousands of lives, while earlier outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever had taken many more. Within the filthy slums, especially the notorious Five Points neighborhood, about which Charles Dickens said, "All that is loathsome, drooping and decayed is here:' the death rate was three times that of the rest of the city. Without the new immigrants, the population of the city would have been decimated. With them, the city was almost unlivable.

Tuberculosis was rampant. It was a scourge of greater proportions than AIDS, influenza, and polio combined, and had run unchecked for centuries, killing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The disease was not limited to the lung infection, or consumption, immortalized in literature by Dumas's Marguerite in Camille, and later Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. It was a generalized condition that also produced draining scrofulous abscesses of the lymph glands of the neck and axilla, and bone infections necessitating amputation. Little could be done other than drain the tumors and remove the festering parts.

Rich and poor lived in close contact, and resentment and unrest were everywhere. Riots in the first half of the century were common and usually reflected class and ethnic hostilities. Among these were the deadly Astor Place Riot in 1849 and the Klein Deutschland Riot of 1857. Earlier riots had erupted between Catholic and Protestant street gangs, and several were prompted by the city's efforts to remove some 20,000 feral pigs from city streets.

As mid-century approached, the gentry abandoned lower Manhattan and moved "uptown" to the wide-open spaces of Greenwich Village. Among them were the prosperous Halsteds.

By mid-century, 14th Street had become the epicenter of society. Broadway was the busiest shopping corridor in the world, and 200,000 horses plied the city streets, pulling stagecoaches, buses, delivery wagons, and cabs. Sanitation was nonexistent and health hazards were overwhelming. Each horse produced more than 15 pounds of manure daily, and there was no organized system for its disposal. Manure piles were everywhere, seeping into street-level rooms in heavy rain, drying in fly-infested piles in summer. Each year, 20,000 horse carcasses were dragged from city streets to the pier on West 38th Street to be shipped to rendering plants in Barren Island, Brooklyn, where the bones were turned into glue. New "brownstone" homes were built with high entry stairs to avoid the ubiquitous manure.

Human excrement was also a problem. There was no municipal sewer system, although more affluent neighborhoods could petition for the construction of sewers and share the cost among the residents. Elsewhere, chamber pots were still emptied from tenement windows into the street. Women used parasols to protect themselves and their finery from flying excrement. The exodus uptown provided some relief, but it wouldn't be until after the turn of the next century that electric buses and the automobile supplanted horses and eased the situation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Quotes: A Refuge

From When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti on pages 223-225:

I can feel a very kindly eye on me. To my right there's a very wrinkled, shrivelled old woman watching me infinitely tenderly.

'You remind me of someone,' she tells me, 'a good person.'

'So do you. You have my grandmother's eyes...and she was a very good person.'

I feel like we're said everything; what could you add after confiding in someone like that? But she goes on.

'You're a good girl and I'm sure you're a good soldier. I'd like to have had a daughter like you, but I didn't have any children. I was born in Vilna. Do you know where that is?'

My history lessons quickly resurface: Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, the new Jerusalem as it was known, the city of a thousand wise rabbis, before the Nazis got there. I nod my head, my stomach's in knots.

'The Germans came. They shot some of the Jews and herded the others into a ghetto. Why shoot one person and not another? I was twenty-two, I had a father, a mother, a younger brother and a younger sister. And a sweetheart, we were going to be married. He wanted to wait till the end of the war, he said you can't have the best day of your life surrounded by death. His name was Yatsek.

'They killed my father on the first day. My mother fell ill and she died soon afterwards. We were hungry, and cold. I was frightened again, like when I was little and I was afraid of the wolf at night. But now I was twenty-two and there was a whole pack of wolves prowling round us day and night, howling. Yatsek tried to run away from the ghetto and was taken. No one ever saw him again.'

I'm crying silently. She goes on, with her hand on my arm.

'One day my sister and I went out to look for something to eat. A German looked at us, burst out laughing, then pointed his gun at me, at my sister, at me, at my sister, at me, at my sister. In the end, she was the one he shot.

'Now there were just two of us. Shloimele, my younger brother, and myself. We managed to escape from the ghetto and we went into hiding with our old neighbours. We stayed in their cellar for two years. At the end of the war they asked if we would like to go on living with them, but we couldn't, we had to leave that country which was gorged with the blood of our people.

'In 1948, we set sail on a boat heading here. We arrived on the first day of the war of independence. They took my brother as he stepped off the boat, gave him a gun and told him: "Go and fight with the others to defend your country." He'd never held a gun. He was killed on the second day of fighting.'

I don't even know if I'm still breathing. She finishes her story calmly.

'Why did I live when they all died? There's no answer to that. You remind me of Yatsek's sister--that's why I've told you all this.' She pauses for a moment, then she adds, 'You mustn't cry, you mustn't cry. Now there are girls like you, with beautiful smiles, who can defend this country if need be. I never married, I didn't want to make someone unhappy all their life. But every child in this country is my child, and I feel so happy when I see you...'

I heave a very deep sigh. In a few minutes I'll have to get off [the bus], I have a mission to accomplish. A new blood is flowing in my veins, as if I were going to fight for this old woman with her gentle eyes, this woman whose hand shook as it held my arm.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Consumption & Production by Prakash L. Dheeriya

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Finance for Kidz, Volume 10:
Consumption & Production
by Prakash L. Dheeriya, Ph. D.

Hardback: 24 pages
Publisher: Fintelligence Publishing
First Released: 2010

Source: The book was pitched by PR by the Book, and a free review copy was provided.

Book Description (my take):
Zulia goes on a school field trip to a local farm. Her teacher uses it to explain the financial concepts of production and consumption. The terms learned: producers, consumers, product, goods, services, capital resource, natural resource, human resource.

I'm all for teaching kids "big" concepts, so I was interested when I heard about this 20-volume series for teaching 5- to 9-year-olds the principles of finance.

However, I was disappointed with the book. The actual story text is only 6.5 pages long (about 650 words) with two additional worksheet pages to practice correctly identifying producers and consumers. The author stressed that the parents needed to come up with examples of their own to make sure the kids really understood the points. So I'm wondering why he didn't give more examples, or at least why he didn't combine 5 volumes of the Finance for Kidz series into one to make a standard-sized children's book worth the $20 price.

I'm a hobby farmer and studied commercial animal farming (animal science) in college. The author didn't accurately describe commercial farming. (He had chickens being hand-fed grain while wandering free in the farmyard with a mix of other farm animals. He also had one farm commercially raising cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and huge fields of some crop.) I don't think it's a good thing to misinform kids about one thing while teaching them another.

The text did a fairly good job at demonstrating the financial terms covered, though each term was only briefly covered and sometimes not clearly defined.

The illustrations were fairly accurate and pictured a commercial farm and the characters. Overall, I felt like the book left much of the work up to the parents, anyway, so the parents might as well come up with their own examples to begin with and save the money they'd spend on this book.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Quotes: Getting Supplies in an Occupied Town

From A Woman's Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald (page 123):

We find it so hard to live. So hard to get anything to eat. The [Union] soldiers would willingly exchange meat, sugar, and coffee with us for fresh bread or flour, but are not allowed. The prohibition, however, does not prevent me from getting Aunt Winnie to bake bread and give it to them surreptitiously as they pass on their way to the spring and receiving from them in return things which we can get in no other way.

Sometimes I sit in the dining room reading till midnight, and a low knock on the door. I get up and admit a Yankee soldier with a black camp kettle and a bundle in his hands. I take him to the pantry, lock the door on the inside and inspect the contents of the kettle and bundle. The kettle has coffee and sugar in it with a paper between to keep them apart. The bundle has a piece of fat bacon, but it is very welcome to us who have nothing but bread. I fill his kettle with flour and let him out to go his way back to the camp, while I lock myself in and hide the things. If they suspected him they would punish him as he is acting without permission.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of Life Inside the "Thin" Cage by Constance Rhodes. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of this excellent book from your favorite bookstore.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces? by Julie Mazzei

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Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces?
How Paramilitary Groups Emerge and Challenge Democracy in Latin America
by Julie Mazzei

Trade Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
In an era when the global community is confronted with challenges posed by violent nonstate organizations--from FARC in Colombia to the Taliban in Afghanistan--our understanding of the nature and emergence of these groups takes on heightened importance. Julie Mazzei's timely study offers a comprehensive analysis of the dynamics that facilitate the organization and mobilization of one of the most virulent types of these organizations, paramilitary groups (PMGs).

Mazzei reconstructs in rich historical context the organization of PMGs in Colombia, El Salvador, and Mexico, identifying the variables that together create a triad of factors enabling paramilitary emergence: ambivalent state officials, powerful military personnel, and privileged members of the economic elite. Nations embroiled in domestic conflicts often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when global demands for human rights contradict internal expectations and demands for political stability. Mazzei elucidates the importance of such circumstances in the emergence of PMGs, exploring the roles played by interests and policies at both the domestic and international levels. By offering an explanatory model of paramilitary emergence, Mazzei provides a framework to facilitate more effective policy making aimed at mitigating and undermining the political potency of these dangerous forces.

The title is a bit misleading since this book isn't about whether armed citizen groups are valid forms of self-protection or not. The subtitle contains the true topic: How Paramilitary Groups Emerge and Challenge Democracy in Latin America.

The book was very well-researched, and the author completely convinced me of her points. She used the Chiapas region in Mexico; Colombia; and El Salvador as the focus of her book. She focused on the big picture over a sweep of years and so her book had a rather clinical-sounding view of the conditions that spawn paramilitary groups, how they are organized and supported, and (when applicable) how they were disbanded.

The introduction discussed the various past models that have been proposed for the emergence of PMGs, why those models aren't good ones, and what her model is. Chapters 1 & 2 covered the Chiapas region in Mexico: the history (mainly the politics with a lesser focus on the economy structure) and power structure of the area and how that lead to PMGs emerging. She then discussed evidence for how the PMGs were organized, supplied, and supported.

Chapters 3 & 4 covered the same factors for Colombia, but also discussed the attempt to disband the PMGs. I enjoyed this section the most because a human aspect was added by quoting various interviews with PMG leaders. They briefly discussed why they started a PMG and their view of the purpose of PMGs.

Chapters 5 & 6 covered the El Salvador political history, the support structure for the PMGs, and how they were successfully disbanded. The author actually went to visit this country, and so brief snippets of her impressions were included along with some brief interviews that mainly discussed why various people from various sides thought the disbanding of the PMGs worked so well here.

The conclusion summarized what she thought could be learned from her research.

Overall, it was a well-written book, but it's a bit more focused on politics and had fewer interviews with locals than I expected. However, for someone who wants to know more about Latin American politics and/or under what conditions paramilitary groups emerge and are sustained, this is an excellent book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Introduction
In October 1987, Juan Bautista was driving through Puerto Araujo, Colombia, transporting merchandise from the border with Venezuela. He was traveling with sixteen of his coworkers along a route dotted by military checkpoints. At the checkpoint in Puerto Araujo, a lieutenant made note of the fact that the men were carrying a "considerable quantity of contraband merchandise" but allowed them to pass. Shortly thereafter, Juan and the sixteen others were stopped by a group known as the Asociacion Campesina de Ganaderos y Agricultores del Magdalena Media (the Association of Rural Ranchers and Farmers of Magdalena Medio, ACDEGAM), a group of citizens who had organized to protect their communities against the Colombian guerrillas. The self-declared "self-defense patrol" had been watching Bautista and his friends for some time; the men had refused to pay the ACDEGAM "protection taxes" and were suspected of supplying guerrillas with some of the goods they transported. When they were detained by the ACDEGAM on 6 October, the seventeen men were taken to the ranch of the ACDEGAM's leader, Henry Perez. There they were murdered and dismembered, and their remains disposed of in the Ermitano stream (IACHR 2004:43).

Read chapter one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Quotes: Helping Streetwalkers

From A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness (page 91):

It is one of the paradoxical aspects of Victorian society that in this era when the family was almost deified, prostitution was practiced blatantly. For some of the women it was perhaps their preferred form of trade; but for many young girls, stranded in the city without skills or means of employment, it was a tragic recourse. Whether they were victims of folly or circumstance, Lilias's heart was moved with compassion for these "lost sheep" so profoundly in need of a loving shepherd. At a time when it was unacceptable for a young woman to be out alone in the city, Lilias fearlessly traversed the streets to rescue these streetwalkers, many of whom haunted the neighborhood of Victoria Station. She brought them back to the hostel for a good night's sleep and for training in an employable skill, and she introduced them to the Good Shepherd.

Friends remember the lengths to which she went to help these girls, planning and providing for them, but often simply listening and offering a word of counsel. On one occasion, a friend recalls her staying up all night with a "half-crazed girl" to save her from taking her own life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Giveaway: Life Inside the "Thin" Cage

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I've decided to do a giveaway for my copy of Life Inside the "Thin" Cage by Constance Rhodes. It's a used copy, and a well-used copy at that.

To learn more about the book, you can read my review.

One copy is being given away. This giveaway is for USA and Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer Please enter me to win LIFE INSIDE THE "THIN" CAGE by Constance Rhodes."


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered. Please leave some way for me to contact you if you win.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on March 18, 2010 on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Life Inside the "Thin" Cage by Constance Rhodes

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Life Inside the "Thin" Cage
by Constance Rhodes

Trade Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Shaw Books
First Released: 2003

FINDINGbalance website

Source: Bought from Half.com.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
"I don't have an eating disorder. I just watch what I eat..."

For millions of women, "watching" what we eat has become an outright obsession. Frustrated by the unrealistic standards of beauty presented by today’s media, many women have become trapped in a never-ending pattern of chronic dieting. Daily, they endure destructive self-talk such as “I can’t eat that or I’ll get fat” or “If I could just lose a few more pounds everything would be better.”

Chronic dieters may be any shape or size but they have one thing in common: They are often left to suffer alone with an undiagnosed “sub-clinical” eating disorder. Such sub-clinical disorders include eating habits that are unusual, even unhealthy, but do not fit the technical classifications of anorexia or bulimia. Because sub-clinical disorders are largely unrecognized, we may refuse to admit to our friends--and even to ourselves--that there is any problem at all.

*Do you categorize some foods as "safe" and others as "off-limits"?

*Do you believe that if you were to gain weight then people would no longer like you?

*Are you tired of worrying about weight, dieting, and food all the time?

If this sounds like you, discover a new road to emotional, physical, and spiritual health--and freedom--that lies beyond Life Inside the "Thin" Cage. Readers will find personal stories, insights into their secret patterns and habits, reassurance that they are not alone, checklists, self-tests, and, best of all, a new road to emotional, physical, mental and spiritual freedom.

Life Inside the "Thin" Cage is a well-written and helpful book for women and men who are dissatisfied with their bodies (specifically those who "feel fat").

I don't think I've ever done a diet in my life. I simply try to eat a moderate amount and eat a large variety of foods. However, I read a different book that briefly touched on eating disorders (including sub-clinical ones) which included the "I just watch what I eat" quote from this book as well as a recommendation for it. Since I'd say "I just watch what I eat," too, I began to wonder what the difference was between me and someone with a problem, so I got this book.

I agree that it's excellent. It reinforced my contentment with how I look, and I suspect it would be very helpful for anyone who struggles with "feeling fat," who's stuck in a constant cycle of dieting, and/or who has set rules when it comes to eating.

The book had five parts. Part One explained what was meant by "chronic dieting" and "disordered eating." It explored some motivations for chronic dieting as well as self-tests and questions to help the reader identify if they have a problem. She also listed the signs of health problems caused by disordered eating.

Part Two explored the factors that lead to chronic dieting and disordered eating. Part Three explained what keeps people trapped in chronic dieting and helps the reader to identify things that trigger the desire to diet. Part Four gave the reader truths to replace the lies that trap them in disordered eating habits. Part Five gave steps to help the reader break free from chronic dieting and disordered eating.

Throughout the book, author openly shared her struggles with chronic dieting and also shared stories from many others. She also included medical information about disordered eating. The author occasionally referred to God and sometimes included a sample prayer at the end of a chapter, but God wasn't the focus of her suggestions (as in, this wasn't a "Christian book.")

The book was easy to understand, encouraging, and practical. Overall, I'd highly recommend it to anyone dealing with "I feel fat" and eating issues.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
"I don't have an eating disorder. I just watch what I eat..." These were the words I repeated time and again to anyone who suggested that I was overly concerned with weight and dieting. After all, I reasoned, isn't it normal to take pride in maintaining a slim figure?

In Western society today, it is culturally acceptable and even expected that women who want to be successful and respected will be on a never-ending diet. At every turn, we face images of smiling, beautiful, thin people. We can't walk through a shopping mall without realizing that unless we go to extreme measures, we're just not going to be able to stack up against the ideal of beauty that we see hanging in store windows. Even if we don't leave home, an innocent evening in front of the television supplies multiple reminders of the standards we consistently fail to meet.

So we have learned how to force our often rebellious bodies into the crippling corset of conformity. We have exercised, skipped meals, switched to low-fat or no-fat foods, or gradually decreased our overall intake of calories to a point that ensures continued weight loss. As time has gone by, some of us have learned the art of replacing a burger and fries with a Diet Coke and a fruit plate, while others live from diet to diet--a never-ending cycle of feast, famine, elation, and self-loathing.

Even if we are successful at losing a few pounds, it seems we only find new things to dislike about the size and shape of our body. "If I could be just one size smaller," we lament, "then everything would be better."

And so the vicious cycle continues, sapping us of time, energy, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Without realizing it, we've become trapped in the "cage" we so lovingly call "thin"--endlessly striving to meet an ideal that seems like the answer to our discontent.

Read the rest of the first chapter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Quotes: Copying Buddhist works in Tibet

From The Culture of the Book in Tibet by Kurtis R. Schaeffer (pages 23-24):

[Note: Büton Rinchendrup was the great fourteenth-century scholar of Shalu monastery in west-central Tibet and oversaw or influenced much of the book-making at the time. In this quote, he's thought to be writing to the editors engaged in copying the Tengyur, part of the Tibetan Buddhist cannon.]

Büton advises the editors that "Since an understanding of the word and the meaning are dependent upon one another, when some doubt arises, understand the meaning from the word by looking at [the word] analytically, and the [correct] graph will be understood from the meaning." In other words, the text should make sense, and if it does not the editor is encouraged to emend it in accordance with his reasoned understanding of what the text should say. The act of editing was for Büton an act of personal interpretation, at least in part. This method no doubt led to many problems, and not a few anonymous editors have been accused of fabricating meanings in their efforts at conjectural emendation. Indeed, one of the most serious charges against authors and editors alike is that the texts they produce are self-made (rang bzo) and therefore not in accordance with tradition. Büton's positive assessment of conjectural emendation constitutes a significant difference between him and many later editors, who considered it to be a major source of textural error.

I was surprised to learn that the exact replication of the Buddhist cannon was rare throughout the 14-18th centuries and that changing the text was acceptable to one degree or another. That's very different than the exact, careful replication--down to the smallest mark--by the Israelite scribes copying the Hebrew scriptures!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Flawless by Scott Andrew Selby, Greg Campbell

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Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History
by Scott Andrew Selby & Greg Campbell

Hardback: 336 pages
Publisher: Union Square Press
First Released: 2010

Source: Received as a free copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Publisher Wesbite (slightly modified):
On February 15, 2003, a group of thieves broke into an allegedly theft-proof vault in the international diamond capital of Antwerp, Belgium and made off with over $108 million dollars worth of diamonds and other valuables. They did so without tripping an alarm or injuring a single guard in the process.

Although the crime was perfect, the getaway was not. The police zeroed in on a band of professional thieves fronted by Leonardo Notarbartolo, a dapper Italian who had rented an office in the Diamond Center and clandestinely cased its vault for over two years.

The “who” of the crime had been answered, but the “how” remained largely a mystery. Enter Scott Andrew Selby, a Harvard Law grad and diamond expert, and Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds, who undertook a global goose chase to uncover the true story behind the daring heist. Tracking the threads of the story throughout Europe—from Belgium to Italy, in seedy cafés and sleek diamond offices—the authors sorted through an array of conflicting details, divergent opinions and incongruous theories to put together the puzzle of what actually happened that Valentine’s Day weekend.

This real-life Ocean’s Eleven—a combination of diamond history, journalistic reportage, and riveting true-crime story—provides a thrilling in-depth study detailing the better-than-fiction heist of the century.

Flawless is an exciting and interesting true crime book. I love the eye-catching cover--the diamonds on the cover are iridescent.

The first part of the book set up the crime: who the criminals were, what their personalities were like, and the previous crimes they'd committed. It also explained the technology the criminals had to overcome, and a bit about how diamonds are processed (from digging them from the ground to selling the finished stones in the Diamond District) and how they've been stolen during these stages in the past.

Everything came together very nicely in the second part as the authors described the actual theft and investigation. Because of the initial information, it was clear what a breathtakingly bold crime was committed. Even knowing the general outcome, my heart was pounding due to the suspense in these scenes. Very well written. They also described the difficulty of trying the criminals, who had gone over the border to another country, and the fallout for everyone (the thieves, those who lost items, the building security, etc.).

The book contained a general map of the layout of the Diamond District and of the Diamond Center so that the descriptions were easy to follow. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written book to those interested in true crime and detective stories--especially to readers with an interest in diamonds.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Prologue
The white-tiled floor of the vault was littered with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, gold, and silver. Empty velvet-lined jewelry cases, cardboard cigar boxes, and tin-clasped metal containers lay amid sparkling gemstones of every imaginable cut, color, clarity, and carat. There were ancient heirlooms, gilded bond notes, a Rolex watch, and a brick of solid gold heavy enough to stub toes. Loose stones rolled and bounced like marbles as the detectives picked through the debris, their low gasps and whistles of amazement echoing softly in the bright underground chamber. Detective Patrick Peys thought that if he were to shovel it all up, pour it into any one of the empty and discarded containers scattered about, he would have enough wealth to finance a decadent retirement not only for himself but also for the five other detectives in his unit of specialized diamond-crime investigators.

Like everyone else who descended to the bottom floor of the Antwerp Diamond Center that day--Monday, February 17, 2003--Peys needed some time to process the enormity of what he saw. He was no stranger to audacious crimes committed--or at least attempted--in Antwerp's high-security Diamond District, but he'd never seen anything like this.

By almost any measure, the safe room two floors underground was as impenetrable a fortress as any to be found in the tightly protected Diamond District....

....Peys looked down at the piles of wealth and debris scattered across the floor. What was rolling under his feet--those gems and jewels, those scattered and discarded riches, the individual treasures of the building's tenants who had stored them in the vault under the reasonable assumption that they would be safer here than in any bank--were the items the thieves had left behind. They had robbed and ransacked more than they could carry.