If you think the book devotes far too little attention to the Unabomber himself, you’re right.
It’s been almost 20 years to the day since Theodore Kaczynski was arrested for the Unabomber attacks. From 1978 to 1995, he mailed 16 bombs to various locations around the United States, all in the name of protesting technology. While there were numerous injuries to individuals, some of them severe, the acts thankfully resulted in only three deaths. The Unabomber was eventually apprehended thanks to a tip by his brother, David. This much is widely known.
What is perhaps not as widely known is what drove a brilliant man with so much intellectual promise to commit such atrocities, or how David could turn in his own flesh and blood, the elder brother he idolized.
With Every Last Tie, David Kaczynski peels back the curtain to reveal, first, how he came to see the 1995 manifesto as his brother’s own words. What was Ted like growing up, and into adulthood? Well, that’s somewhat secondary.
Instead, David spends an inordinate amount of time discussing his wife, Linda. First, he takes great pains to note she was the driving force behind identifying the Unabomber’s words as Ted’s. She recognized the tone and the word choice. She encouraged him to delve deeper. She kept the idea alive, reminding him and pushing him (gently, of course, as any good wife would), until he discussed the idea with his mother and then reached out to the FBI.
Think this is enough about his wife? Me, too—but David does not. Instead, we get the story of their courtship: how they met, when they began dating years later, how he loved her but not so much the idea of marriage, how he finally accepted the institution and married the love of his life. We get photographs, too—of the happy couple, of them with Mama Kaczynski and then Papa.
Of course, the book includes family discussions, as well, along with family photographs. The cover, for instance, shows the young brothers, six-and-a-half years apart in age, captured in a family photograph, the family’s pet bird resting atop Ted’s shoulder. An odd—and somewhat creepy, image considering not just the presence of the bird but the creepy little smile on Ted’s face—juxtaposition when you consider what was to become of the first born.
We read how, as young Ted grew up, he also grew increasingly strange, angry, and isolated. He went to college early: He was just 16 when he left for Harvard University. The young age, combined with the psychological experiment in which he took part, only exacerbated his deteriorating mental health.
A note about this highly unethical and damaging experiment: Ted had been recruited for the Multiform Assessments of Personality Development among Gifted College Men, called the Murray experiment for the psychologist behind it. In David’s words, the study “used deceptive tactics to study the effects of emotional and psychological trauma on unwitting human subjects”—and boy, did Ted qualify. He completed the four-year project because, as he later said, he wanted to show the experimenters they couldn’t break him.
Such psychological torture would only exacerbate his burgeoning mental illness, which was almost undeniably schizophrenia. On a visit home, adult David was handed a book by his mother—a woman largely in denial of the severity of her eldest son’s problems—written by a woman struggling to understand her own son’s schizophrenia. Still, Mrs. Kaczynski was in denial, telling David, “Not that I think Ted is schizophrenic…but maybe he has tendencies in that direction.” Ya think?
After Ted’s arrest, David would show his brother’s letters to a psychiatrist, who all but confirmed the illness, saying, “I see features consistent with schizophrenia. There’s some highly paranoid ideation [and] extreme defensiveness.”
If you think the book devotes far too little attention to the Unabomber himself, though, you’re right. For one thing, t is only 104 pages long, far from enough to explore the topic. There’s a rather lengthy afterword by forensic psychiatrist Dr. James Knoll, but even it blows more smoke than addresses the presumed subject of the book. (It is difficult for me to write this, as I have studied Dr. Knoll extensively in my own research on mass murderers, and actually respect him quite a bit.) In between drawing parallels between serious mental illness, stigma, crime, and violence, Knoll discusses what a great guy David is—he’s a Buddhist, in case you don’t know, and has addressed mental health conference attendees nationwide. There is, sadly, little specific in the afterword to Ted Kaczynski, the presumed (promised?) subject of the book.
Overall, I learned far less about the Unabomber and how he became that way than the book had promised. Although I love a good psychological profile of society’s most infamous killers, unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. | Laura Hamlett