Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise

Stephen Butterfield

A hilarious and thorough account of the Amway experience written by a disillusioned “distributor” who is also a professor of English. This is delicious armchair sociology, manna for the conspiracy theorist, and worth the attention of anyone who has sat next to an Excel troglodyte selling pyramid long-distance phone service on a cross-country flight. HJ

Publisher: South End
Paperback: 186 pages

Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire From Melanesia and Beyond

Lamont Lindstrom

This is a history of the cargo cults of Melanesia and an intellectual history of an idea. “There is something about cargo cult…” Lindstrom, an anthropologist at the University of Tulsa, writes. “It evokes an intellectual frisson, a faint thrill, an uneasy glee… It palpates and animates our own diffuse but powerful discourses of desire and of love, particularly the melancholy of unrequited love.” Cargo cult means different things to different people, from the romantic tourist’s notion of a bunch of Melanesians in grass skirts waiting for LBJ to come down from the mountain bearing refrigerators, to the academic’s too-easy love affair with “postmodern deconstructions.” Even the Melanesians can’t agree on what cargo means. But what really makes cargo cult resonate in Western minds, as is clear in this book, is that the Melanesians’ impressionistic yet systematic apprehension of Western cultural precepts, reflected back at us whole in caricature, is tantamount to an objective outsider’s cultural critique of our very own world view. Basically, the cultists’ response to us answers the proverbial question: If a bunch of Martians landed in Cincinnati right now and had a good look around, what would they possibly make of what they saw? “Could it be…” Lindstrom writes, “that we are entranced by cargo cults because we are, at heart, commodity fetishists?… We want cargo, but we know also, at heart, that the moral connections that the dominant capitalist rhetoric asserts between hard work and material success are fraudulent and ultimately illusory. Our commodities are equally supernaturally alienated as Melanesian cargo.” HJ

Publisher: University of Hawaii
Paperback: 246 pages

Bad Girls Do It! An Encyclopedia of Female Murderers

Michael Newton

An alphabetical encyclopedia of female multiple murderers. The two implied selection criteria are telling: These women have all killed more than once, and they’ve all been caught—eventually. Most of the murderesses killed several husbands or children, most of them for insurance money, and an impressive number of them were not caught until they’d committed a half-dozen glaringly identical crimes. It leaves one with a picture of feminine evil: women tend to poison instead of shooting; they kill with calculation, not from passion; and they usually get away with it—why else would so many women here be caught on only their fifth or sixth husband-drugging? How many others managed to kill off just the one husband undetected? Reading this catalog, one realizes that women can be just as deadly as men, but that they get away with it more often. HJ

Publisher: Loompanics
Paperback: 205 pages

The Dillinger Dossier

Jay Robert Nash

Did John Dillinger orchestrate his own permanent retirement as Public Enemy Number One? Nash presents compelling evidence that it was not John H. Dillinger who was gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934, by Hoover’s G-men, but a small-time hood named Jimmy Lawrence. Why did the corpse have brown eyes, if Dillinger’s were blue? Why did the coroner’s autopsy report go missing for over 30 years? And why was the body laid to rest under 2,500 pounds of impenetrable concrete? Nash assembles documents, morgue shots, handwriting, first-hand interviews, and purported photographs of Dillinger in old age, all of which indicate strongly that Dillinger not only faked his own death, but was alive and well as late as 1979, and living in Hollywood, California. HJ

Publisher: December
Paperback: 250 pages

Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids

Donna Gaines

Teenagers in Bergenfield, New Jersey, started a suicide trend in 1987, when several “popular” kids from the local high school gassed themselves in their car. Donna Gaines, a social worker and former Long Island rocker teen herself, reported the story in a 1987 article in The Village Voice that forms the basis for this book. Gaines is accepted by, and hangs out with, the black-T-shirt-wearing Bergenfield youth, a clique where all the girls wear bandages on their wrists. This is a fairly detailed document of the teen-suicide aesthetic, yet for all its detail and empathy, the book is oddly boring, but then, that’s kind of the point: suicide as an expression of mediocrity. HJ

Publisher: CRC
Paperback: 263 pages

Amok Journal: Sensurround Edition—A Compendium of Psycho-Physiological Investigations

Edited by Stuart Swezey

What, on the surface, is the connection between the work of art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst, and cargo cults in New Guinea, and autoerotic fatalities? And furthermore, what does it all have to do with the possibility that your neighbor’s forced-air heating system may be emitting inaudible sound waves that cause you needless anxiety and excess sexual excitement?
In his introduction to the Amok Journal: Sensurround Edition, editor Stuart Swezey writes that these and other “accounts of the search for the erotic in the mechanical, the sublime in the visceral, and the spiritual in the electromagnetic,” together constitute a basis for investigating “the neurobiological basis for mystical and ecstatic experience.”
What this means is that despite the endearing presence of an article called “The Love Bug” (the imaginary headline screams: “Man dies making love to Volkswagen”), this is no mere collection of lifestyle marginalia, but a theory of the human defined by its farthest-flung event horizons. An as editorial stylist, Swezey gets at these extreme demarcations of culture and consciousness through the unexpectedly lush language of forensic reports as well as his own dry, neo-Victorian prose. But the cumulative effect of the case studies, interviews and scientific papers collected here is epistemological: in the aggregate, these pieces form a knowledge-based antigen to the feel-good anomie of late-century American culture.
In the introduction to an interview with filmmaker Gualtiero Jacopetti (of the original shockumentary Mondo Cane), Swezey writes, “In contrast to the ubiquitous tabloid TV of our time, Jacopetti’s films make no effort to mask their delight in discovering the bizarre and the grotesque which the world offers. Jacopetti makes no pretense in his narration to a Geraldo-like indignation or an Oprah-esque compassion.” In face of a zeitgeist that has us all individuating indiscriminately just for the applause—and the free therapy—the Amok Journal provides an alternative template, a reading map superimposed over a scramble of seemingly unrelated fringe phenomena, through which the core phenomena of everyday life suddenly leap out in sharp new relief.
How does this work? The Journal takes disparate instances of sexual deviance, covert action and radical thought, e.g. “Rectal Impaction Following Enema With Concrete Mix,” and a Hungarian report to the U.N. “Working Paper on Infrasound Weapons,” and José Ortega y Gasset’s “Meditations on Hunting”: when displayed next to each other in proper context, as they are here, these elements shed their novelty aspects and begin to appear as a seditious commentary on the under-reported risks of individuality, conformity and desire. All of which makes one think, why not go ahead and start to see dating, shopping at the supermarket, and reading the New York Times through the same sharp lens?
As a guidebook, the Amok Journal is a no-nonsense world tour and all-purpose locator for the culturally over-stimulated. As a philosophical/political text, its underlying theme is nothing less than the varietal experience of the all-American (now international) self-made man—who is, of course, the granddaddy of all deviants. HJ

Publisher: Amok
Paperback: 476 pages

Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors

Rosamund Wolff Purcell and Stephen Jay Gould

While it’s true that any class of mundane object grows creepy when amassed in sufficient quantity (remember Imelda Marcos’ shoes?), the collections represented in this book are unequivocally strange, such as Peter the Great’s “Cabinet of Wonders,” which contains giant skeletons, two-headed sheep, and healthy teeth pulled from Russian soldiers by Peter himself. The essays by the naturalist Gould and color photographs by Purcell illustrate and collude with the excesses of decadent taxonomy.
Here is Gould describing the artwork of Peter’s personal embalmer, Frederik Reusch: “He might sever the arm of a dead child, surround it ‘so prettily and naturally’ (his own words) with a sleeve and lace cuff expertly sewn by his young daughter Rachel, and then suspend from the fingers, by an organic thread made of yet another body part, some exquisitely preserved and injected organ—perhaps an eye, or a bit of genital anatomy… “
“The world is messy; the world is multifarious,” writes Gould, in reference to biologist Eugen Dubois’ collection of brain casts of tigers, squirrels, chickens and polar bears, nested in antique cigar boxes. Indeed. HJ

Publisher: Thames and Hudson
Hardback: 160 pages

The Death Dealer’s Manual

Bradley J. Steiner

“What real killers do, and how they do it.” Concise and thorough instructions free of flashy goonery. Includes conditioning exercises for knife-wielding, garotting basics, detailed instructions for mastering G. Gordon Liddy’s “Pencil Kill” technique, how to fold a newspaper into a weapon of deadly force, the recipe for turning a can of chewing tobacco into a fatal poison, and an introduction to “Dim Mak,” or the Chinese Death Touch. By the defensive-combat editor of Handguns magazine. HJ

Publisher: Paladin
Paperback: 100 pages

Dirty Tricks Cops Use: And Why They Use Them

Bart Rommel

Ever wonder how cops prevent scarring when torturing suspects with a stun gun? How about their use of a copying machine and cellophane tape to lay down fake fingerprint evidence? Topics covered include speed traps, evidence-tampering, illegal search and seizure, coerced confessions, entrapment, execution and “pro-active enforcement.” Includes footnotes, bibliography and index. HJ

Publisher: Loompanics
Paperback: 160 pages

Kill Without Joy!: The Complete How To Kill Book

John Minnery

The title alludes to the assassin’s proper frame of mind, an emphatic blank, swaggerfree and beyond the concept of mercy. In these pages the gun becomes a mere fetish object, a sentimental icon of death, while the true and artful instruments of murder are apparent in a breathtakingly comprehensive array: Place a paper bag of dry ice under a person’s bed in a closed room and they’re dead the next day of carbon monoxide poisoning, the weapon evaporated. Stuff a tennis ball into another person’s mouth, and they’re asphyxiated, unable to summon the jaw strength to spit it out. Strangle someone with an industrial garbage-bag tie, called a Flex Cuff™, which is the same plastic handcuff cops use and available in neck size at automotive shops, etc. HJ

Publisher: Paladin
Paperback: 495 pages