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Personal Effects

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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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The topics covered were quite interesting. However, the repetition and self praise was a turn off to this reader.
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When death comes, as it will for all of us, who will speak for us to those we leave behind? Who will find all of our pieces, the contents of our pockets, luggage, homes? Who will work to return our mortal remains to those who grieve our passing and so deeply need answers to so many whys that haunt them. Robert A. Jensen has been the man to find the answers, the pieces and has been doing it for many decades. From natural disasters like Katrina, to manmade horrors of domestic terrorism like the Federal building bombing in Oklahoma City, he is the man who speaks for the dead, who tries to keep their dignity intact while people gawk from the sidelines and flashbulbs light the scene. He is the one to gather the pieces and return them to their families and to give them whatever comfort he can to help them face this loss and to feel less lost themselves.
On the face of it this sounds like a very dark book and yes, it is that. At the same time the compassion he brings to his job shines through. He has seen it all starting as a young man working the Oklahoma City bombing as the Commander of the US Army's 54th Quartermaster Company - the main Mortuary Affairs Unit and facing the monumental task of safely recovering all of the remains and not have the members of his team come to harm themselves as the tattered building threatened to collapse on them.
I have to say this is a powerful book that may need to be read by most readers one chapter at a time with a break between each chapter. It is a lot to process but it is a story that is beautifully told, a story that needs to be told. I came away from reading the last page with new knowledge and admiration of Robert A. Jensen and the career he has embraced. This was an amazing book and I'm very glad St. Martin's granted my request for the ARC.
My thanks to the publisher St. Martin's and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
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We will all die one day.  We all grieve differently for those we miss and those left behind.  In his brilliant and thoughtful book, Robert Jensen explains his job of caring for the dead and the living.  He owns a world-leading disaster management company which means he is tasked with the grim job of searching for an identifying bodies in natural and manmade disasters, murders, accidents, mass graves and suspicious deaths.  He has literally investigated every single major disaster in the last thirty years!  This book is about personal objects the dead have left behind such as passport pictures, journals and wedding rings.  But they leave behind much more than that to family.  Jensen deals with that subject frankly but with much care.  As he has been so involved, he knows human nature.  He himself was involved in a serious accident and observed reactions.  His insight is incredible!

The information is astonishing including the woman with two different shoes, where to store bodies, the importance of religion and culture in death, how crucial it is to find and identify every bit of human tissue possible (more reasons than I knew), people who kill pilots on airplanes which causes death upon impact, New Orleans disasters where bodies were found in deep mud and on beds, mass graves, body farms and the importance of NOT relying on visual identification of bodies.

The author describes the importance of treating bodies with dignity, respect and with an identity.  He is meticulously careful when describing to survivors what has happened to those killed.  He covers media sensationalism and legal issues and the critical need for better planning for disasters.  

Though a morbid topic in ways, it is one which had me asking myself many questions on how disasters and bodies are dealt with.  The sheer amount of knowledge is mind blowing and extremely riveting.  Jensen's anecdotes, compassion, experiences and advice show he is definitely the one for this job.  But he must compartmentalize and remove himself.  

This book is not for everyone.  You will read many graphic details.  I took breaks from the book to read other lighters ones in between as the topic is so heavy.  But it is unmissable for those who are scientifically/medically minded or the curious.  What I learned makes me smarter!   How wonderful that so many questions I had were answered and yet now I thirst for more answers to questions I did not realize I had!

My sincere thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this incomparable and thought-provoking book!
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Robert A. Jensen's Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me about Caring for the Living is a fascinating read. Jensen runs the world's largest disaster recovery business, which contracts with corporations, nations, and NGOs to do recovery of human remains after disasters, provide communications with survivors, and advise on disaster prevention. Jensen's company has worked on hurricane recovery, airline disasters, mass burials resulting from political conflicts, and in the aftermath of terrorism.

Jensen contextualizes the book by emphasizing the importance of respect and communication, which offers a series of excellent lessons in helping others through the most difficult times of their lives. His prose style is conversational. He's a man you want to sit down with over a beer or a cup of tea and talk with for hours at a time. Jensen's book offers a broad overview—as opposed to, say, Eliot Behar's Tell It to the World: International Justice and the Secret Campaign to Hide Mass Murder in Kosovo Tell It to the World International Justice and the Secret Campaign to Hide Mass Murder in Kosovo by Eliott Behar that offers a very specific account of the Hague investigations and prosecutions of the genocides in the Balkans.

If you're at all interested in the process of disaster recovery—and the ways it can (or can't) be done effectively and respectfully—I strongly recommend checking out Personal Effects.
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Personal Effects 
by Robert A. Jensen 
Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021 
St. Martin's Press 

Personal Effects began with so much promise for me but quickly became just a collection of antidotes that needed more organization.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book because it just needs so much more editing. 
Thanks to St.Martin's Press and Netgalley for the opportunity to read the ARC. 

3 star
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While dealing entirely with mass casualty events, most incredibly violent, this book isn't gory or grotesques. Instead, the overwhelming feeling it left me with was gratitude for the vast and often extraordinarily expensive measures taken by the author and his team to treat human remains with dignity and to deliver them to their living relatives, in whichever way the relatives find most appropriate.  Yes, it's a bit repetitive, but I think it's important that the author continues to stress throughout the book the importance of understanding cultural norms and personal preferences of the grieving.  Unfortunately, the author is not a particularly gifted writer - the prose is workmanlike but never particularly great, which is the reason I took off a star.
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Personal Effects is a remarkable book filled with stories along with statistics. Robert Jensen has the most interesting life along with the most interesting career. His office is disaster sites as he works with the dead, people who have died in many types of disasters; airplane crash, boats overturned and huge disasters like the 9/11 towers along with so many more and all around the world. It's a fascinating story with tons of information. Thank you #NetGalley#StMartinsPress#PersonalEffects
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Parts were interesting  but this what not what I expected from the description. It was more biographical than forensic study. 
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Personal Effects definitely kept me entertained (and anxious) on a plane ride home. Author Robert Jensen, head of the most renowned disaster recovery company, discusses his work cataloging and repatriating items recovered from tragedies including September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The book is thought provoking and heart wrenching, and sheds light on an industry few know exists. 

I liked the topic, but thought the execution was too jumpy. One paragraph would discuss a terrorist attack, the next a hurricane, and the last the author's personal life. This made it hard to find the through line and I became very distracted from about 40% through onward. I think some editing is in order to make the book flow more logically, thus increasing the potential for poignancy. The author has a great message, and it would be a shame if it were lost in the shuffle and missed by most readers. 

Note: I received a free ebook copy of Personal Effects from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This was definitely a heavy read. I had no idea this profession was even a thing before this book. Thank god someone can do it because after reading this I’m sure it could not be me. 

 My biggest takeaway from this was to live in the now. I’m a very sensitive person so this book did take me a while to read but I’m so glad I did. “…that offer tangible proof people exist- or at least existed once- and were loved” that line alone was why this is highly rated for me Bc at the crux of it, isn’t that what we all want?
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Robert Jensen’s book Personal Effects is more about people than things.  In this memoir the author reflects back on his career recovering bodies and objects in both military and civilian life.  His career path is unique and I was fascinated as he told of his work adventures.

This book covers Jensen’s recovery efforts in a variety of situations including plane crashes, weather disasters, military battles, fires, and national disasters.  I found the variety of plane crashes he went into depth on to be fascinating.  The process of cataloging items, and finding family members to claim is discussed in depth and it really struck me how long it can take to complete.

Events that cause death are generally looked at from a general perspective with people asking questions like why or how did this happen?  Jensen’s unique perspective into the minute details of each event as they relate to the people involved made me look at death from a different perspective.

Jensen says “We need to talk about death.  Not obsessively, or morbidly, but sometimes - and with open eyes.  It is something momentous that happens to us all.”  And as much as that statement makes me uncomfortable, I agree.

I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in return for my honest review.  The book was fascinating, and I would recommend it to a friend.
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I requested Personal Effects from NetGalley with some hesitation. I'm not particularly squeamish, but the idea of reading a book about recovering the dead was a little unsettling. It is difficult to read at times, but Robert Jensen writes about the disasters his company handles with honesty, logic, and empathy. I learned so much from this book, starting with the fact that Kenyon International Emergency Services exists. Mr. Jensen is owner and CEO of this 115-year-old disaster management company. I always assumed that only governments responded to disasters, but Kenyon is an incredibly well-organized leader in crisis management planning and response. They provide mortuary services in mass casualty situations, including recovery, identification, and return of personal belongings. They have expanded to provide direct support to families by counseling, telephone inquiry centers and crisis communications.

If you think of a disaster that you have heard about on the news, Jensen and his company have most likely responded to it. Mr. Jensen began his career in the Army and responded to the crash in Croatia that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and others, and the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Oklahoma City taught me an early and important lesson about large-scale catastrophes: Don't expect wisdom at the moment of death. Don't expect anyone to know where they're going or even what they're doing."

Later his company was involved with the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, the September 11 attacks, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, and the Covid-19 pandemic. This book is not just a recitation of disasters and how he responded, but rather a careful recounting of the delicate procedures that Jensen and Kenyon have learned and perfected in dealing with multiple governments, local rules and customs, while maintaining respect and dignity for the victims and families.

I think the author would be a fascinating person to meet, mainly because he deals with worst-case scenarios on a daily basis but he doesn't seem to be bitter, jaded, or pessimistic.

"Death doesn't create meaning; it does its best to undo meaning. Our work as the living is to build legacies and institutions that can hold fast in the face of death's assault."

I don't know of another book quite like this one, and while it could be organized slightly better and be less repetitive, it was a very educational, enlightening, and valuable read for me.

"One thing politicians, planners, and ordinary people need to remember is this: we don't control nearly as much as we think we do. Mass fatalities and crises expose that fact like nothing else. We have to learn to accept that fact in a way that we generally don't at the moment. But we also have more ability to respond than most of us realize. Don't fight the things you can't control. Focus on the things you can."

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book.
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I want to start this out by stating that I ended up not finishing this book at about 40% (according to my Kindle). I typically do not comment on books that I don't finish, but this one felt like an important exception to make to possibly prepare other readers for the trauma heavy content of the book. 

Now, I completely understand that by the very nature of what Robert Jensen does for a career that by picking up the book, you recognize that you are signing up to read about disasters. I love a good disaster story, but the repetitive nature of Jensen's writing and re-visiting of graphic descriptions made it impossible for me to finish the book. It's very clear than Jensen cares deeply for the work that he does and the families that he, and his company, assist through very traumatic experiences. However, it bordered on trauma porn for me because he would re=visit certain scenes (United Flight 94 comes to mind) and seems to focus more on the grisly, rather than the humanity behind the necessity that is his career. 

I did find the behind the scenes and logistics really fascinating, but I couldn't get past the nightmare inducing events.
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This was an interesting read! I found myself wanting more details about the author and his experience versus so many details in the events themselves. The logistics of each event and the scattered nature of the chapters quickly became overwhelming. I think this book could benefit from another round or two of editing but overall I really enjoyed the voice of the author abs the things he has learned during an unbelievable and extraordinary career! 

Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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Robert Jensen is unusual in the sense that he deals with disaster almost every day. There are many, many more people in the world who are in the situation where they will have responsibility in case of a disaster, but a disaster is extremely unlikely to occur. This latter type of people are the people who could benefit from reading and thinking about this book. If you read it but never need its wisdom, you have lived a fortunate life. If a moment arrives when you need the lessons within and you have not read it, it will be too late to start.

Several years ago, when the US diplomatic service showed even worse judgment than usual by allowing me to briefly join its ranks, I found myself in this (i.e., person of responsibility in case of the death of others) situation for a few years in a remote location. I could have used this book at that time. Instead, I formulated various plans and strategies in my head, all of which probably would have fallen apart upon contact with the reality of a disaster. As it turned out, during this period I had to deal with only one dead person (natural causes, more or less), which was traumatic enough – the details of the incident are still seared into my brain decades later.

In fact, I'd love to contact someone in the instructional arm of the US diplomatic service and recommend that they make people in training today read this book, but it's been a long time since I knew anyone there and I fear being treated like some sort of a crank.

That said, let me say that this book sometimes reads like promotional marketing for the author's business, probably because it is, in part, promotional marketing for the author's business. This is not meant as criticism. Most people are lucky enough never to be in a position of responsibility in a zone where a disaster has occurred. If you find yourself in one, it would not be your least productive thought to think: “Hmm, I wonder if I can hire someone with experience – didn't I read a book about that a while ago?”

However, this book indicates that, having had the above thought, the next step is likely to end in frustration, since Jensen's business is not a charitable organization and someone will object to having them on the payroll until it's essential to have them on the payroll. Jensen catalogs the damage, lawsuits, stress, and unnecessary extra work caused by the inexperienced trying to do disaster cleanup on the cheap to please bean counters back in the home office, at least until the bereaved families set up a howling which changes the priorities.

“If truth is the first victim of war, then efficient organization is the first casualty of any natural disaster,” writes Jansen (Kindle location 1467).

As a book (not marketing), the author's tendency to set himself up as one of the smartest, sensitive, and culturally aware people in the room is a drawback – people's mistakes often make better reading (and more memorable lessons) than their successes.

Sometimes, the book reads a little like the unedited transcript of somebody's dictation. (Example: “One of the worst hit companies was Cantor Fitzgerald, not a company we worked for though” (location 1305)). The book may have improved in this sense as it went along, or perhaps I just got used to the authorial voice and didn't find it as jarring.

There is some plain-spoken common sense: "Our cultural norms right now tell us to forget bad things, to move on. Dust yourself off and get back to normal life. If we don't honestly acknowledge our mistakes from the past, or bother to understand the lessons, not just noting that the events occurred, we will just repeat them" (location 3270).

Not only did I receive a free electronic advance copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via Netgalley, but I also got an email inviting me to download it. It's always pleasant to be asked one's opinion.
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Enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and gives the reader a behind the scenes look into disasters; what the loved ones go through and the people who help bring them closure.
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