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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Pouncey, Peter: Rules for Old Men Waiting | Main | Schaefer, Laura: Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor »

Kersten, Jason: Journal of the Dead

  

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Perennial © 2004, 236 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Raffi Kodikian and David Coughlin met during their college years, in the mid-1990's, and bonded over air guitar and Cheers, movies, mutual friends, and shared confidences. Some five years later they decided to take a road trip west together--David was moving from Massachusetts to California--one leg of which brought them to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park. They meant to camp out in the park for one night and see the caves before taking off again. But Carlsbad was as far as they got. Raffi and David hiked into Rattlesnake Canyon, a "remote, mostly unheard-of rift in the Chihuahuan Desert," and pitched a tent, but in the morning they were unable to find the trail they'd followed in. Days later they still hadn't found their way out, and they'd long since run out of water. When rescuers arrived on day four--on August 8, 1999--Raffi was still alive, if dehydrated, and he admitted to having stabbed David to death just that morning by way of ending his friend's suffering.

When rescuers arrived on day four--on August 8, 1999--Raffi was still alive, if dehydrated, and he admitted to having stabbed David to death just that morning by way of ending his friend's suffering.Jason Kersten tells the story surrounding Raffi's fatal stabbing of David in his compelling book Journal of the Dead. Kersten covers the history of his subjects' friendship, the particulars of their trip cross country and of their fateful stay in Carlsbad, and the ensuing arrest and prosecution of Raffi. Along the way Kersten discusses myriad related topics--the affects of dehydration on the body, the near absence of precedent for mercy killings in survival situations, the legal defenses considered and rejected by Kodikian's counsel.

Kodikian's case is inherently fascinating because of its ambiguity: Raffi was neither obviously innocent nor clearly guilty of having acted from malice aforethought. Kersten--who refuses to state his own opinion on Kodikian's guilt or innocence--does a wonderful job of explaining the arguments from both sides of the courtroom, addressing those issues which tend to exonerate Kodikian and unpacking those parts of his story that don't quite add up. (One troubling aspect of Kodikian's case, for example, is that he was released from the hospital--he walked out of the hospital himself--after only one hour of treatment, hardly what one would expect for someone who was allegedly so severely dehydrated that he had contemplated suicide.) Because Kodikian refused to be interviewed for the book, Kersten reconstructs what happened to the friends in the desert from other sources, including courtroom testimony and physical evidence. Kersten's account left this reader, at least, unsure of what to make of Kodikian, and appreciative of the legal system's apparent wisdom in dealing with his case.

Kersten is a good writer. His book is punctuated by well-turned phrases that reward rereading:

"So that morning he [Coughlin] stood in a driveway outside an apartment building in the town of Milford, forcing himself to part with the woman who name was all poetry: Sonnet Frost."
Perhaps by way of padding the story, which grew out of a 2000 Maxim magazine article, Kersten includes information not strictly pertinent to the case: a history of the town of Carlsbad, the story of an ill-fated Confederate campaign across the Rio Grande, a horrific tale of dehydration and death in the Sahara. These make for interesting enough reading. But sometimes Kersten's book is more drawn out than it needs to be. His account of the early stages of the friends' road trip is unnecessarily long, for example, and the 50-odd page account of Raffi's sentencing hearing at the end of the book likewise might have been abbreviated. But this complaint is relatively minor. Kersten succeeds in elucidating for readers the fascinating case of Kodikian's mercy killing--or murder--in a manner that, happily, leaves the mystery of the story unresolved. It's a very good true crime story.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.