As host of the Conversations with History archive, http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations/ I prepare for the interview by reading the guest's collective work. I am then able to place the most recent book in the context of the guest's life and times. This immersion often opens a vista for understanding current events in a way that is unexpected. Let me cite an example that is relevant for today's news.
In the fall of 1999, I interviewed the noted psychiatrist and social theorist Robert Jay Lifton. http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Lifton/lifton-con0.html Dr Lifton had just written Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism. This book is an analysis of the Japanese religious cult that launched the sarin attack in the Tokyo subway. In giving us a profile of the members and their charismatic leader, Lifton helped me understand the cult like quality which even the educated can embrace when a fanatical religious leader seems to be offering an ideology that responds to the spiritual and moral dislocation of modern life. After the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, I returned to Lifton's book as an invaluable resource.
Now that a recent article in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer chronicles the use of medical doctors in the U.S.camp at Guantanamo http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050711fa_fact4 I was reminded of a seoond Lifton book, The Nazi Doctors. Here Dr. Lifton answers an important question: How could German physicians who were committed to saving lives become such an important part of the concentration camps where they helped destroy lives. There is, Lifton teaches us, a fine line between good and evil that even the best trained can easily and without self recognition cross in the service of ideology. I strongly recommend Lifton's books as an important resource for understanding the fanaticism that drives the terrorist cells. He also shows the fine line that should not be crossed in the fight to defeat them.