I You We Them: Walking into the World of the Desk Killer

Dan Gretton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (1,104p) ISBN 978-0-374-90964-2
In this sprawling and meditative debut, Gretton, cofounder of the British arts-activist group Platform, investigates crimes against humanity and the mindsets of the bureaucrats and businessmen who perpetrated them without getting their hands dirty. Anchoring the book is an extensive account of the Holocaust that explores everything from the Nazi functionaries who planned it to a Swiss truck manufacturer that designed mobile gas chambers. He also profiles British officials who exacerbated Ireland’s potato famine, Shell executives who abetted the Nigerian military in attacking environmental protesters in the Ogoniland oil fields in the 1990s, and Bush administration lawyers who supported the torture of detainees. Gretton intertwines harrowing descriptions of atrocities with shrewd analyses of the processes of dehumanization, distancing, and blame-shifting that let government and business managers dodge responsibility for them. Full of long digressions—nature walks, family history—and rumination, this baggy work is sometimes overwrought in comparing modern corporate executives and Nazis (”[Albert] Speer has never left us... he’s there in every micromanaging CEO”). Still, Gretton offers a lucid, powerfully written indictment of historical outrages, posing painful moral questions that remain relevant today. (July)
Reviewed on : 03/06/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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