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Personal Effects

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Member Reviews

Man. This book was hard to read. The subject matter could be described as sensitive at best and traumatic and anxiety-inducing at worst.

This book is part memoir, part guide, part philosophy. It tells of the author's decades of experience in disaster cleanup. His company is the one who shows up to deal with things when things like plane crashes, earthquakes, or terrorist attacks take place. It is his job to be a liason between the authorities and the families of the dead, to identify bodies as well as cataloging thousands of personal items and trying to match them to the victims and get them back to the victims' loved ones. 

Reading this book was similar to driving past a wreck on the highway. You don't want to look but you can't help it. The stories Jensen tells are frightening, heartbreaking, awful. There were many times I had to put the the book aside for awhile because it was sending my anxiety through the roof. (I am one of those people who reads about tragedy and my mind starts imagining what if that was happening to me or worse, to my children.)

Jensen is obviously a man with a great deal of compassion and respect for both the dead and their families and this comes through quite clearly in his writing.

The book could definitely have done with a bit more editing, at times it feels unorganized and therefore repetetive in places, but as a reader you're so deeply immersed in the writing that it's easy to overlook this.

Ultimately a good book covering an interesting topic in a way I haven't seen it done before, but very hard to read for emotionally sensitive people like me.
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Fascinating, held my interest and was the book I had to check in with every day, until it was done. But (and that's a big But) it is not a book for everyone - well, it is for everyone, But I'm pretty sure there are those who will give this a pass.

I'm rather morbid, and am interested in bodies after their spirits have parted. I ponder long about how we as the living, left behind humans, react to that puzzle, that unanswered question: the dead body. Robert A. Jensen has an absolutely, steady-freddy point of view on this topic. As he should. He's done this difficult job more than most, has been moved upon to write about it and share it with you and me. I, for one, am grateful.

Not only do we get an insider's view of what happens in large disaster events, the invisible is made visible for the time of reading the book, at least, of the service others carry on quietly doing while the rest of us look away, stare at the sunset or "think happy thoughts" rather than rush to lend a hand. After all, there are People to do that, right? This is the voice of one of those People. I am thankful for his service, and the service of all those like him who face daily trauma and still go home, fix dinner and help with homework.

I'm left with a wondering appreciation for the bravery, the years of doing hard things others don't and keeping a cool head in chaos, having respect for all others foremost, including the ones who've left behind their little bit of clay in this sweet place in the universe.

A Sincere Thanks to Robert A. Jensen, St. Martin's Press, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and review.
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I am going to be writing a review for this work in Penumbra...the review is due on November 15th, and it will be published in January...I do not have it written yet, but I did enjoy the book quite a bit.  Although the writer is very objective throughout, for a person to be able to do this for a living, he or she or they must be compassionate and caring to the victims and the victims' families.  I commend Jensen for the work he does and also for the way he helps those left behind find peace and solace, even if they cannot have their loved ones back.
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Personal Effects by Robert A. Jensen started out so well. It is interesting to me how the author goes about the process of not only finding bodies and personal effects from major disasters but also how they identify the bodies, how they handle dealing with the different governments, different beurocracies, not to mention the families. Dealing with that much grief on a day to day basis has to be horrendous. And while I thought the premise of this book was great, the execution could have been a little better. There was repetition at times, and things stopped flowing about half way through the book.  3⭐

Thank you to Netgalley, St. Martin's Press and the author for the eARC/ARC of this book. All options are mine.
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Thank you Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for the gifted book!

Robert A. Jensen is the Company Chairman and Co-Owner of Kenyon International, the world’s leading full-service disaster management company. In this book he talks about his experiences in retrieving human remains and personal effects from horrific circumstances. He has responded to The Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. 

Jensen approaches these disaster situations in a very brusk and matter of fact way. But you would expect him to after over 30 years of dealing with death and destruction on catastrophic scales. His care though for the families left behind is evident in the way he speaks about them and the way he works to build systems of response that bring compassion to devastating situations. 

Jensen shares what he has learned from his experiences about life and about being prepared for disaster should it come. I think the things he shared are good nuggets of common sense and wisdom gained from his expertise. 

The only thing that kept this book from being amazing was the author's lack of humility. He has accomplished much, but he is also a fan of tooting his own horn. And his political commentary was a bit too harsh for my taste. I also feel like the book could have used a bit more editing and polishing to really help it shine. 

Overall though I found this a fascinating read and have spoken about it to many people who have asked me in the past week what the most interesting book I read recently was. This is one that will stick with me.
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I received this book as a free ARC thanks to Netgalley & the publisher.  This is my honest review. 

What a fascinating book!  I HIGHLY recommend - this included interesting stories on the behind the scenes of cleaning up tragedies, which is a viewpoint that I've never been provided before.  I also appreciated the useful crisis management, disaster preparedness tips and best practices that were provided.
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Personal Effects by Robert A Jenson

In this five star account of a necessary and meaningful job that most of us would never be able to do, Robert Jenson explains the intricacies of being the one to piece together the mysteries of the aftermath of tragic events. 

Did you ever wonder what happens to all the belongings found after an accident or natural disaster?  A few or a thousand people may have been involved. Families want to know about their loved ones. This is a solid explanation of how one goes about uniting the owner and his/her belongings with the deceased person’s family. 

Much tact is involved along with the sleuthing, while keeping the families up on procedures. 
Jenson reiterates that respect for the dead all through each job is paramount. 

Remember, it’s not just stuff. It’s memories restored. A wallet with photos, a ring, a favorite cap; they are a comfort to loved ones. Lucky for all, Robert A Jenson was on the job.
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Part memoir, part nonfiction, part tangential true-crime, Personal Effects is a stunning and mournful look at the detritus of a death: the keys, receipts, watches, and jewelry we leave behind, and how these artifacts can illuminate what happened. Robert Jensen, the owner of the largest disaster management company in the world, has masterfully woven his experiences with tragedy and its aftereffects into a moving portrait of a life spent on the trail of disaster.
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I really enjoyed reading the Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living  by Robert A. Jensen because as the subtitle suggests there is great care and empathy when dealing with tragic moments. In a society where people want the answers in an instant, Jensen really describes why there is a need for patience in tragic circumstances, whether it is a terrorist bombing, a condo complex simply collapsing in the middle of the night, or a one person car fatality. 

There are few words to use in describing during these investigations that need to take place and the process in returning the deceased's belongings.  Jensen was able to describe that tragedies are universal in that people grieve in many different manner and the great ethical care that must be applied to maintain consistency for every single person in the tragedy. It is a evident that that Jensen is a professional and wrote this book in a direct and yet careful manner so that others in his field can avoid missteps that he has witnessed and really translate the recovery process for people that have or will experience a traumatic loss. 

***Many thanks to #Netgalley for the free digital ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.***
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This is a story about learning about the living by caring for the dead.

This was an excellent, heartbreaking book.  I cried a lot, and I think the capacity to spark that much emotion is the hallmark of something excellent.  The author’s experiences caring for the dead in a respectful and compassionate manner have left him able to speak to the human condition in such a unique way, and the writing is never dry.  I’ll recommend this all around!

Thank you so much Netgalley & St. Martin’s Press for this eArc!
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This was a deeply interesting book, written with great respect and insight.
It was written with grace and frankness.

I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.
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I received a free electronic ARC of this memoir from Netgalley, Robert A. Jensen, and St. Martin's Press.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.  I have read Personal Effects of y own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work.  This is a book I encourage friends and family to read.  The sub-title says it all - What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living.  

I guess thinking about the logistics of sorting out mass disasters is something I never really wanted to consider.  What an enormous responsibility! Robert Jensen's first exposure to the many facets of death was during his time serving as a young man he was a police officer in California, as a serviceman in the Mortuary Affairs Unit in Bosnia after their four years war, and Haiti after their wars, but his first exposure to large scale, politically hot catastrophe in the United States was the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.  Thereafter, even as a civilian, he played a lifetime's part in the hot spots around d the world, from earthquakes to hurricanes to the war dead and those slain as the result of political rebellions. If we read about it in the news, chances are he was there, taking care of the dead. Jensen's experiences, as horrific as they were, offer a much-appreciated guideline to the proper process of finding out the answers for the questions of the survivors of the dead.    

In this world we live in today, this is something we should get right.
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Personal Effects by Robert A. Jensen is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late September.

Jensen as a person who routes bodies and personal items to where they’re meant to be after natural and unnatural disasters, i.e. through Mortuary Affairs, relying on refrigerated trucks and personal effects to identify bodies; often finding that he's needing to put aside sadness to complete a necessary task, not to mention conspiracies as they develop; the situations he’s come upon and has had to piece together; laws being passed to empower survivors and the bereaved after a disaster; some people relying on a body's complete recovery for them to grieve, while others leave it where they died; the reluctance and red tape in other countries to hold back an initial repatriation; and the illusiveness of DNA.
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Mass fatalities, whether the cause is natural, accidental or intentional, require more than investigation. Someone needs to deal with both what remains and the families of those lost. That's what Robert Jensen's company does. It's complicated and exacting. It entails the physical aspects of recovery and identification of the victims and belongings, , the people skills to work with governments and companies, and tact and empathy while assisting survivors. Jensen's skills at organization are apparent in his writing and the structure of his book.  He describes the varied aspects of the work clearly and with examples. His personality and his commitment to giving the victims and their family members respect is welcome.

I thought about this book after the Champlain Towers South condo collapse and found the book had given me greater empathy for all involved. Thanks you, Robert Jensen.
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Have you ever wondered what happens to the victims of a disaster and all of their belongings? Who handles the logistics during the aftermath of a mass casualty event? Robert Jensen is an expert on recovery. His job is to recover and ID victims and make sure their possessions are returned to their families. He acts as a go between for the victim’s families and the government or companies involved. 

I find this subject matter incredibly fascinating. I am a worse case scenario kind of person. A “why not me?”, as opposed to a “why me?”, if that makes sense. Learning about the process that occurs after a disaster, such as a plane crash, gives me a kind of comfort. Knowing there are people like Jensen who care deeply about the victims, treat them with the utmost respect, and help alleviate the suffering of those left behind, calms me in a way. While this book deals with difficult subject matter, there is not a lot of gore and the morbid details are never overdone or dwelled upon. Jensen’s devotion to his work and deep respect for human life is abundantly clear.

I must say that this book really reads more autobiographical than a forensic study. This isn’t a critique, just wanting to forewarn readers. The book is a bit choppy and repetitive at times. A lot of it also reads like promotional material, which I can appreciate because Jensen is discussing his job, but it felt overdone in my opinion
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What an intriguing toping for a book. Disasters happen.  We've all seen them play out on live TV, and a smaller number have unfortunately experienced disaster firsthand.  But HOW countries, states, cities, and companies manage disasters is an expansive blank space for most of us.  SO I was very excited to read this book, written by Robert A Jenson, one of the only people with the life experiences to be its author. 

Jenson heads the world's largest disaster management company, and he's responded to almost every significant global disaster for decades.  I'm sure his colleagues, friends, and publishers have encouraged him to write his story. It is worthy of telling.

BUT, and this is a big but...

Jenson needed a ghostwriter to help him tell his tale.  He's excellent at disasters but not so much at organizing his story.  A professional writer could have done so much to improve the readability of this book.

Personal Effects reads like a massive collection of randomly strung-together anecdotes.  The content is there, but it's all over the place.  I believe Jenson tried to put together a coherent story, as his chapter titles suggest, but I never felt a cohesive narrative.  

I can't give this book higher than three stars because of its poor organization.  Personal Effects is closer to a first draft or even notes used to pull together a complete story.  My brain tried to do this as I read, but ultimately it was just a mish-mash of information going nowhere.  It was interesting information, just not a book.
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I was completely fascinated and engrossed in this book. I anything about forensics. I'm not sure how I fell in love with this topic, but I read, watch, and listen to whatever I can find on this topic.

I was surprised at the number of incidents this author had worked on throughout the world. He and his team from Kenya (located in Houston) drop whatever they are doing when a call comes in because of a disaster. 

I have never thought about the different components which take place following a disaster (airplane crashes, fires, hurricanes, etc.) We see the devastation on TV or read about it online, but after the initial coverage, most people do not think of the impact these situations have on the survivors and familiy members. Jensen goes into detail about how the bodies, the family, and the company, government or business is managed. I was surprised to learn the amount of care the Kenya company go to in order to help the families begin to grasp their new normal. 

This book will not be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
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Rating: 2.5 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I have to say, I found this book fairly underwhelming. The stories were definitely interesting, shocking, and impactful however the delivery was extremely choppy. I think this book could benefit from more organization, a different timeline and much better flow.
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Jensen writes about his experience in his career dealing with the aftermath of mass casualty events, generally retrieving the bodies of the deceased or helping to identify bodies to return them to their families and provide closure. It was interesting to read about his work and the outlook on life he's developed because of it. I think the concept I found most interesting in the book, was Jensen's point that we tend to be prepared for the last disaster and not for the disaster that is on the horizon. It felt like a really important idea in this time.

There was a chapter on covid, since it would be difficult to have a book about dealing with that aftermath of mass casualty events without discussion of the current mass casualty event. It did feel a lot more unfocused than the rest of the book, but I think that's due to still being in the middle of covid, so it's lacking the clarity of hindsight.
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Personal Effects by Robert A. Jensen provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at catastrophes and the necessary work completed for the dead and their families. Jensen has spent three decades recovering the dead and their personal effects in disasters, from plane crashes to earthquakes. The author owns the world’s leading disaster management company and has worked for the federal government in this capacity. Jensen gives his honest accounts and experiences working behind the scenes to help in the face of calamity and confusion. His writing sometimes seem detached, but it seems compartmentalization would be absolutely necessary in his job. He takes us through a variety of tragedies and I learned so much from this book. 

In addition to grueling work and stress of  recovering bodies and being a contact point for grieving families, he may have to deal with political ramifications, governments, airline and insurance companies, etc. One thing I found striking was the privilege associated with some victims vs. others. This was especially apparent with the treatment of Haitians vs. ambassadors during the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010. I really appreciate the care and dignity he and people like him show victims. I listened to the audiobook which was well-narrated by Adam Barr and fit the tone of the book. 

Thank you St. Martin's Press / Macmillan Audio and NetGalley for providing this ebook and audiobook ARC.
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