Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: Anatomy of a Kidnapping by Steven L. Berk

What started as one of those lazy Sunday mornings that every busy man or woman longs for — clear blue skies and no schedule to adhere to — in one of America's safest communities, the town of Amarillo, Texas, on March 6, 2005, the tranquility of personal freedom was shockingly transformed into two hours of terror for a prominent doctor and the dean of the medical school, Steven Berk.

Dr Berk photoAfter seeing his wife off to church that morning, while his teenage son was practicing guitar and waiting for his ride from a friend, Dr. Berk was settling into a day of rest and a planned phone call with his elder son who had asked Berk to review one of his papers before turning it into his professor at Brandeis University, when a parolee from the Texas prison system, Jack Lindsey Jordan, entered Berk's home through an open garage door and held a shotgun to Berk's back from inside the home's utility room while he bade his son goodbye, having no idea if it might be his last.  Thus began the two-hour ordeal where Berk's medical training empowered him to gain the abductor's trust and avoid a violent death.

Jordan, a confessed methamphetamine user with a violent past, held Dr. Berk at gunpoint while driving the empty streets of Amarillo, typical of Sunday mornings in this community of many churches, large and small.  Searching for an ATM machine so cash could be withdrawn for Jordan to move on down the road to his next victim, Jordan confided in Berk about such things as his drug use and the loneliness he lived with after the accidental death of his wife, caused by Jordan's own driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Throughout the ride on the streets and an eventual brief return to Berk's home to retrieve jewelry from his wife's collection, Berk reflected on the lessons he had learned as a doctor, noting particularly Dr. William Osler's famous farewell address, "Aequanimitas," to gain the strength to overcome his captor through equanimity and cool-headedness.

A book perfectly suited for a "required reading" list for medical students and young doctors, Anatomy of a Kidnapping offers much more than a lesson about winning over a confused and violent kidnapper.  Through countless personal stories of his own experiences in medical residency and physician practice, Berk does what he loves most — he teaches people how to live in balance with the terror that befalls those who are not prepared for the vicissitudes of life.

Readers of management literature and connoisseurs of leadership studies will find stories and inspiration similar to that of Stephen Covey.  It is "boots on the ground" leadership style, packed full of example after example of making the most of one's mistakes, discovering one's core principles, and the value of recognizing the pain in others well enough to neutralize even the most criminal intent.

Berk includes court transcript, dialogue with the perpetrator of the crime, and carefully woven stories of his past to tell this most unusual story.  Published in September 2011, Anatomy of a Kidnapping deserves a place on the bookshelves of those students of medicine and life who want to be reminded of the value of humility and even-mindedness when challenged by the evil forces of violence and domination.

Published first as Book Review: Anatomy of a Kidnapping by Steven L. Berk on Blogcritics.