Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family

Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family

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Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family by David Kaczynski

In August 1995 David Kaczynski's wife Linda asked him a difficult question: "Do you think your brother Ted is the Unabomber?" He couldn't be, David thought. But as the couple pored over the Unabomber's seventy-eight-page manifesto, David couldn't rule out the possibility. It slowly became clear to them that Ted was likely responsible for mailing the seventeen bombs that killed three people and injured many more. Wanting to prevent further violence, David made the agonizing decision to turn his brother in to the FBI.
Every Last Tie is David's highly personal and powerful memoir of his family, as well as a meditation on the possibilities for reconciliation and maintaining family bonds. Seen through David's eyes, Ted was a brilliant, yet troubled, young mathematician and a loving older brother. Their parents were supportive and emphasized to their sons the importance of education and empathy. But as Ted grew older he became more and more withdrawn, his behavior became increasingly erratic, and he often sent angry letters to his family from his isolated cabin in rural Montana. 
During Ted's trial David worked hard to save Ted from the death penalty, and since then he has been a leading activist in the anti–death penalty movement. The book concludes with an afterword by psychiatry professor and forensic psychiatrist James L. Knoll IV, who discusses the current challenges facing the mental health system in the United States as well as the link between mental illness and violence. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822359807
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 02/05/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 346,455
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

David Kaczynski is the past Executive Director of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located in Woodstock, New York. An anti–death penalty activist, Kaczynski served as the Executive Director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty from 2001 to 2012 and has given hundreds of public talks throughout the United States about mental illness, the death penalty, and healing in the aftermath of tragic violence. He is also the author of the poetry chapbook A Dream Named You
James L. Knoll IV, MD is the Director of Forensic Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry at State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has served as a consulting forensic expert for the ACLU, as well as for many law enforcement agencies including the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Read an Excerpt

Every Last Tie

The Story of the Unabomber and His Family

By David Kaczynski

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7500-5



I'LL START WITH THE PREMISE that a brother shows you who you are — and who you are not. He's an image of the self at one remove, but also a representation of the other.

In a universe of unlimited spatial and temporal dimensions, you are brought together with your brother in a unique and specific consanguinity. You come from the same womb. Your family has a certain flavor and smell unlike any other. It has an ethos, perhaps even a mythology all its own.

You are a "we" with your brother before you are a "we" with any other. Even your parents' "we" can be turned against you.

Your brother, if there are only two of you, is your first peer, thus your model for later relationships.

When your brother ventures out in the world, he represents you. If he is older, he may be your only way of being and appearing vicariously in a world that you are not yet allowed to enter. In this sense he represents the possibility of your own future, the widening of your social presence. Your pride in your brother is, in part, egoistic projection.

In relationship to your brother, you also learn about your limitations and about personal boundaries: the things you do less well, the meaning of "belonging" as a noun, the need to compete for attention, the space that opens up for you only after it's been vacated by your brother. Especially if you are the younger one, you only begin to own yourself, to develop a fully independent identity, in your brother's absence. But his absence may haunt your aloneness.

I grew up with the idea that as brothers we are allowed and even meant to fight with each other, until someone attacks one of us. Then we will turn in unison on the attacker as one force redoubled. The older brother protects the younger with his fists and his power. But the younger brother protects the older with his admiration and love. It should be obvious who bears the greater responsibility.

In expansive affirmation, some men address other men as "brother." To designate a special friendship, or to invoke community and intimacy within a group, we use the brother formula as a foundational myth of male fellowship.

My brother, Ted Kaczynski, once sent an airline executive a bomb concealed in a hollowed-out copy of a book with the intriguing title Ice Brothers.

I DON'T REMEMBER A time when I wasn't aware that my brother was "special" — a tricky word that can mean either above or below average, or completely off the scale. Ted, seven and a half years older, was special because he was so intelligent. In the Kaczynski family, intelligence carried high value.

In the late 1950s, the time of Sputnik and the space race, intelligence (especially technical and scientific intelligence) assumed even greater cultural and political resonance. Ted was a "brain" to school-age children in our working-class neighborhood, where the word conferred status but also a vague stigma, since being too intelligent was linked to maladjustment, and most kids wanted to fit in.

As a young child beginning to gauge social perceptions, I thought of my brother as smart, independent, and principled. I heard myself described by our neighbors and aunts and uncles as charming, happy, and affectionate — as if those were traits to be remarked on in a child. Even at a tender age, I sensed that adults contrasted me with my brother. Heck, anyone could be the way I was; it required no effort on my part. But not everyone could be smart, independent, and principled like my big brother. Given a choice, I would gladly have embraced Ted's persona and relinquished my own. I wanted to be like Ted.

However, I distinguished myself from my brother through my interest in sports — especially baseball. One summer day, a slightly older boy in the neighborhood loaned me a glove and taught me how to play catch. Soon he was showing me his prize collection of baseball cards, asking, "Who's your best player?"

I was embarrassed to say that I didn't know the names of any big- league players. Out of the corner of my eye, I picked out a name on a card among the many my friend had spread out on the grass.

"Jim Rivera," I said.

"Oh," said my friend, "'Jungle Jim.' Yeah, I like him, too."

Later that day, I reported to my brother that Jungle Jim Rivera was my "best" baseball player. Teddy was quick to correct me. "Davy, you should say 'favorite' not 'best,'" he said. "And why, might I ask, is Jungle Jim Rivera your favorite baseball player?"

I should have known that Teddy would request a reason. Opinions, I had learned, should be based on reasoning.

"I don't know," I said, feeling slightly abashed. "I guess I just like him." At this, Teddy shook his head ruefully.

TED COULD BE CRITICAL, but he could also be kind. When I was about three, our family moved from a dingy duplex in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood (the Yards being the famous Chicago stockyards) to a house in Evergreen Park, a new working-class suburb on the city's southwest side. It was our first house. When summer came, I used to delight in pushing open the screen door and going out to play in our spacious backyard. It never rained that summer (in my memory, at least). I met other boys and girls my own age. I was discovering a new world and having a ball. The only frustration came when I tried to reenter the house, because I was too short to reach the door handle to pull open the screen door. I would often stand on the back patio — a tiny exile — calling for someone, Mom or Dad or Ted, to let me in.

One day I saw Ted fiddling with something at the back door. He was ten or eleven at the time but always an ingenious person. To this day, it mesmerizes me to watch someone drawing or performing some careful manual task, which I ascribe to my early interest in my brother's activities. He had taken a spool of thread from Mom's sewing kit, and a hammer and a nail from Dad's tool kit in the basement. I watched as he removed the last remnant of thread from the spool, leaving only the bare spool. Then he inserted the nail through the hole in the center of the spool and hammered it onto the lower part of the wooden screen door. When he was finished, he said, "Dave, see if this works!" All of a sudden it dawned on me what he had done: he'd crafted a makeshift door handle for me.

Even after I grew taller and no longer needed it, the spool remained attached to the door for some time — a lingering reminder of my brother's kindness. Tender memories like this one (and there were more than a few) soothe the stings that inevitably come in a sibling relationship. Growing up, I never doubted my brother's fundamental loyalty and love or felt the slightest insecurity in his presence.

Which is not to say that I always felt worthy in his presence. It never seemed a challenge to win our parents' approval. Although humble about their own virtues and accomplishments, Mom and Dad seemed to glory in their two boys. I'm sure it was Ted who first clued me in that Mom and Dad's approval ratings were not objective. He sometimes faulted me, too, for being overly subjective. I remember asking him once, "Aren't we lucky that we have the best parents in the world?" He replied, "You can't prove that."

Sometimes I suspected Ted was judging me, even when he said nothing. I wondered if I had done something wrong that I wasn't aware of. Once when he caught me in a fib, he said, "You liar!" and stalked off in contempt. I worried that I had disappointed him terribly, perhaps beyond hope of redemption. Later, when he said nothing about the incident, I found myself studying his face trying to detect some change, but never able to penetrate the veil covering his inner thoughts and feelings.

Although I had placed Ted on a pedestal — wanting to emulate his intellectual accomplishments, bragging to my fourth-grade buddies when he went to Harvard on a scholarship at sixteen — there was another part of me that sensed he was not completely OK.

I was probably seven or eight when I first approached Mom with the question "What's wrong with Teddy?"

"What do you mean, David? There's nothing wrong with your brother."

"I mean, he doesn't have any friends. Why's that?"

"Well, you know, David, not everyone is the same. You have lots of friends because you like people and people like you. That's wonderful! You're a sociable person. But Teddy likes to spend more time by himself, reading and working on things. That's wonderful, too. He's different from you, but everyone doesn't have to be alike. It's OK to be different."

"I know but ... sometimes it seems he doesn't like people."

Mom must have sensed that I needed more than reassurance. "Sit down, David, I want to talk to you about something that happened before you were born."

Mom and I sat down side by side on the couch where she had read me stories — the Beatrix Potter series, Wind in the Willows, Tom Sawyer — and taught me about life through her explanations and commentaries. I always treasured this time with Mom for its intimacy and also for the world of imagination it opened for me. Sometimes she told me stories from her own life. But now she told me one about my brother's early life.

"When Teddy was a little baby just nine months old — before he was able to talk or understand us — he had to go to the hospital because of a rash that covered his little body. In those days, hospitals wouldn't let parents stay with a sick baby, and we were only allowed to visit him every other day for a couple of hours. I remember how your brother screamed in terror when I had to hand him over to the nurse and she took him away to another room. They had to stick lots of needles in Teddy, who was much too young to understand that everything being done to him was for his own good. He was terribly afraid, and he thought Dad and I had abandoned him to cruel strangers. He probably thought we didn't love him anymore and that we would never come back to bring him home again."

I really can't do justice to my mother's capacity for drama. Perhaps it was because of the stories and fairy tales she read to me on that old couch, but Mom had a way of entering into the emotions of the scenes she described. By the time she finished, I was deeply moved. There were tears rolling down my cheeks as I thought about the terrible suffering my brother had endured when he was a little baby.

It was an important teaching moment, and Mom took advantage of it. "David, your brother doesn't remember what happened to him, I'm sure. He was much too young. But that hospital experience hurt him deeply, and the hurt never went away completely. Please remember that you must never abandon your brother, because that's what he fears the most."

I promised Mom that I would never abandon Ted. She went on to describe her and Dad's patient efforts to help their son heal from his hospital trauma — how after they brought him home from the hospital they spoke gently and cuddled him, and tried over and over to get him to smile back at them. It took a long time, she said, before Teddy resembled the happy baby he'd been before he had to go to the hospital.

As I grew older, the story of my brother's traumatic hospital experience often came to mind as I struggled to understand Ted's quirks or to forgive his occasional insensitivity. It helped me to realize that it takes compassion to truly understand another person.

One summer a couple of years later our father, Ted Sr., caught a baby rabbit in our backyard. He placed the little animal in a wooden cage covered with a screen top. Several neighborhood kids clustered around to gape at the rabbit, and our father seemed proud to show it off. Our family, after all, had a pronounced educational bent. Dad used to teach us how to identify plants. So it was only natural that he would take pleasure in exposing the neighborhood kids to an "educational" experience — the chance to view a wild animal up close. My friends were jockeying to get a good look.

Ted was the last kid to join the onlookers, evidently curious to see what all the fuss was about. But as soon as he glimpsed the little rabbit cowering in a corner of the cage, his reaction was instinctive: "Oh, oh, let it go!" he said with panicked urgency.

Suddenly I saw everything differently. Only then did I notice that the young rabbit was trembling with fright. Only then did I realize that we were being cruel.

Dad, seeing Ted's distress, quickly carried the cage to a wooded area across the street and released the rabbit into the wild.

When I was around seven, Dad finished our attic in beautiful knotty pine so that Ted, now in high school, could have his own bedroom. The change provided us both with space and a measure of independence. But it also allowed Ted to isolate himself from the family whenever he wanted, which turned out to be rather often.

Perhaps puzzled by the long hours Ted spent quietly in his room upstairs, I remember approaching Dad with the same question I'd once asked our mother: "What's wrong with Ted?"

My father pointed out that Ted's intellectual interests set him apart from most of his classmates. While Ted read books about relativity theory, they were listening to Elvis and going to sock-hops. Someday, Dad said, Ted would go off to college and meet other young people with similar interests. He would form close friendships, would eventually marry and raise a family of his own. Ted would "find himself," Dad predicted — it just might take him a little longer.

Since Ted didn't seem to crave company, I felt privileged and rewarded whenever he'd invite me up to his room — perhaps to show me some ingenious mechanical contraption he had invented, or to let me look at his coin collection and tell me how he had acquired the more valuable coins, or to play duets he had composed using our cheap wooden recorders, or to read me a favorite story or poem. It was my brother who first introduced me to the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He once showed me a humorous drawing he'd done of Napoleon that made the emperor look quite crazed. To my preadolescent and later adolescent mind, it was wonderfully cool to have a big brother who would take me into his confidence. I treasured those times we spent together even more than I did our family vacations and excursions to the nearby forest preserve, I suppose because they were more "special." My emotional bond with Ted felt unique and very strong.

Ted left for Harvard when he was sixteen. It never would have occurred to me that my brother would suffer as a result of social isolation (and worse) there, because I had no idea he needed anything from people. I thought of him as emotionally self-sufficient, free of my "weakness" for human companionship, my need for social validation. Only years later did it occur to me that I probably mistook his introversion and strong defenses for emotional strength.

Our family photograph album holds a color picture of Ted and me standing outside our home in Evergreen Park, Illinois, sharing a grip on the handle of Ted's one bulky suitcase. Ted looks very handsome and serenely self-confident. I am the oh-so-admiring younger brother, vicariously enjoying my big brother's triumphant departure to a future without limits. My hair is combed as meticulously as Ted's. I am sporting a dressy blazer to celebrate the moment's glory and promise.

Fifty years later, as I gaze at that young boy's image, I no longer remember what it was like to be me. The picture illustrates how innocent and hopeful I was and how much I adored my older brother. The boy in the photograph was clearly a product of his family and his time. There is absolutely no shadow on that boy's faith in the world's goodness.

Perhaps that moment was the beginning of the end for Ted. He might have been ready for the academic challenges of a place like Harvard, but he was not ready developmentally or psychologically. In retrospect, our parents' one serious mistake as parents was to send him away from home at such an early age. Mastery of learning — which Ted surely had — has little to do with the mastery of life or of self. The broad reach of the rational mind doesn't extend far enough to embrace the complex challenges involved in becoming a person. But perhaps a genetic flaw, a predisposition to mental illness, would have taken Ted down eventually in any case.


Excerpted from Every Last Tie by David Kaczynski. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface  xi

1. Missing Parts  1

2. Life Force  31

3. Ghost within Me  61

4. North Star  81

Afterword / Dr. James L. Knoll IV, MD  105

Acknowledgments  137

Index  139

What People are Saying About This

Dead Man Walking - Sister Helen Prejean

"Deeds of inhumanity challenge us to discover our own deeper humanity. David Kaczynski has done so, both in his life and in this very moving memoir he has written about his family."

Cathy N. Davidson

"An extraordinarily deep, moving, thoughtful, and profound memoir. This brother's story is a generous shattering journey. This author truly has an 'open and fearless heart.' And the book ends with a turn that turns the personal into the profoundly political, with an afterword by psychiatrist James Knoll who writes about mental illness, mental illness policy, and violence with incredible insight and compassion, including his own responsibilities after the Sandy Hook massacre. A powerful book for our times."

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