36. Brainwash, Dominic Streatfeild

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36. Brainwash, Dominic Streatfeild

Post  jrpstonecarver on Sun Dec 13, 2009 4:23 am

Two people before me have reviewed Brainwash in Doug's old forums, and they are both excellent reviews. In fact, it was those reviews that lead me to put this book on my list. Now that I've read it, though, I'm not certain it was worth the time and effort.

The book opens by recounting some disturbing events relating to the behavior of several people in Hungary, Korea, and the Soviet Union in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. It appeared those countries had developed the ability to modify someone's behavior - and possibly their actual thoughts and beliefs - in very significant ways. It was a scary time, and the reaction of our government - and others - was to go looking for how this could be done and if it could benefit us.

From there we're lead into several stories, some of which are truly horrific, about research (both military and non) into various forms of mind manipulation and control.

Brainwash is non-fiction, and thus useful to someone as an overview of the topics involved. However, I found that some of the contents - like chapters on the Moonies, satanism, and recovered memories - fairly far afield from those things that government organizations are doing. Yes, some of the underlying techniques are the same, but for me the presentation didn't hold together that well as the topics varied so widely.

Another frustration - one that may not be the author's fault - is that we never get complete resolution on the alarming cases presented early on. We get some information late in the book, but some of the victims have died and (of course) the Soviet Union is no more. Still, even an explicit summary of what we do and do not know about those cases would have been nice.

Finally I found the style of the book too informal for the topic matter. It bothered me enough that it slightly reduced my level of trust. This is a very serious issue and deserves a more thoughtful (and well documented) presentation than it was given here. Not that this is a tome full of jokes, but it doesn't exactly read like a scholarly work either. That may be part of the reason it is popular, though.

In the end, an important message is presented: there really is no such thing as brainwashing. It's a handy word for something that cannot be done. It is entirely possible to make people talk in various ways, but to change their thoughts radically without destroying them in the process simply cannot be done. In a way that's reassuring.
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