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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII - Jack El-Hai

note: I read this one in October of 2013, but thought I'd bother to give it the proper Booklikes formatting since I make reference to it in a more recent review. 


This book was quick and interesting, but lacked a certain je ne sais quoi for me and, at times, felt a bit "forced" in its attempt to give the relationship between its two titular characters a causal weight in the events that eventually befell the Kelley family.


Like Dr. Douglas M. Kelley (below), I am fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. Likewise, the human capacity for evil revealed in criminology and the study of history (in particular the events of and surrounding WWII) capture my curiosity and desire to understand. Kelley and I are certainly not alone in this, and in the decades since WWII scholars from a variety of fields have sought to unravel the sociological, psychological and historical underpinnings of what happened. All of this is to say, that I did not find Dr. Kelley to be quite as exceptional as the author may have intended.


Douglas Kelley teaching circa 1955


That notable figures who work with notorious criminals are often somewhat egotistical is not surprising. John E. Douglas, the original "Mindhunter," is an example that stands out (see: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit). What author Jack El-Hai refers to as tele-empathy, "the ability to feel what others are feeling and thinking" after carefully examining them" (p.201). Seems like it would be requisite for the job. From studies such as the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Study (both of which El-Hai refers to toward the end of the book), we have learned more about quotidian obedience to authority. Books such as Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door describe that individuals who completely lack conscience are by no means an anomaly. 


The most interesting pieces of information in re. the over-the-top character of Hermann Göring which are almost unfathomably bizarre (his extreme pill addiction, his letter writing campaign to President Truman regarding the inhumane conditions in which he was being kept, his obsession with wild animals etc.) were brushed over too quickly for my liking, in favor of Kelley's family history.  


Goring with lion cub


While I enjoyed this book, I feel like it could have done more. Perhaps that was not the author's intention, but somehow the parallels between Göring and Kelley failed to draw me in as stories unto themselves. Furthermore, these characteristics seemed to me less exceptional, less notable than one might believe based on this material alone. Kelley told journalists that:

"[Göring] is still the same swaggering, vain, conceited braggart he always was. He has made up his mind he's going to be killed anyway, so he's very anxious to be considered the number one Nazi, a curious kind of compensation" (p.116).

This desire to rise to the top (one that Kelley, apparently, shared with Göring) seemed, to me, unsurprising. It certainly didn't seem like a trait so noteworthy as to suggest that two men sharing it would somehow be distant reflections of one-another. I'll withhold the other "big" parallel as not to spoil anything, but I, again, thought it was a bit overstated...