Fans of memoir shouldn’t miss book by Unabomber’s brother

As soon as I saw David Kaczynski wrote a memoir, I put it on my to-read list because who could tell the Unabomber’s story better than his brother who turned him in?

But I didn’t get to reading it until I’d seen several episodes of “Manhunt: Unabomber” on the Discovery Channel. It’s become must-watch television every Tuesday night.

For readers younger than me, the Unabomber was a domestic terrorist who mailed bombs to random people, killing three and injuring 23. He wreaked havoc from 1978 to 1995 climbing to No. 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. If you’re my age or older, you know very well who the Unabomber is, given the high-profile at the time of his crimes.

The television show is very much about the FBI investigation surrounding the Unabomber, but the book is not as much about the Unabomber as it is about Ted Kaczynski, the man eventually arrested for the Unabomber’s crimes.

Every Last TieEvery Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family is a carefully crafted memoir designed to humanize a cold-blooded killer. Just look at the cover. That’s Ted left, his little brother David on the right (there are more family photos inside). One cannot read about Ted’s childhood, David’s hero-worship of his big brother and the heartbreaking way Ted eventually cut off his entire family without feeling some compassion for the loneliness and isolation that somehow compelled Ted Kaczynski to lash out at modern society and the technology that greases its gears.

Clearly David Kaczynski is writing the Unabomber’s back story and about how mental illness permeated his actions, but he does not justify his brother’s crimes. Remember, he was the one who tipped off the FBI, and David Kacynski describes the gut-wrenching way he came to realize his brother was not only capable of violence but perpetrating it.

If you’re looking for details about the crimes or arrest, it’s not here. David Kaczynski structures his story around the members of his family: Ted, their mother, their father and David’s wife. There is an afterword by Dr. James L. Knoll about mental illness and crime, which seems a bit disconnected from the rest of the book, but it too is designed to help people understand the context behind mass killings.

I found the book is compelling and succinct; I downloaded the Kindle version on Thursday and finished it on Sunday. For someone who once lived with a different type of criminal and wrote about the experience (The Percussionist’s Wife), I was mesmerized by David Kaczynski’s discussions of faith, fidelity and justice, and awed by his strength of character and compassion. It’s weird to consider a world that gives birth to both the Unabomber and such a compassionate, intellectual humanitarian and realize they are two sides of the same coin.

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