David Kaczynski has lived the unimaginable: His brother Ted, the Unabomber, did more than merely kill and maim those who were victims of his attacks, he exacted a terrible toll on his own family, as is always the case with those who commit evil acts.
At just over 100 pages, Every Last Tie is a detailed story of family dynamics, a sort of participant ethnography of mid-century, white, suburban American domesticity. The Kaczynski brothers were born in the 1940s in Evergreen Park, Illinois. David describes his father Theodore Sr. as a “blue-collar intellectual” who made sausages for 30 years and took pride in being a local gadfly of the FDR-liberal variety. Their mother Wanda was a first-generation Polish-American who grew up in material and emotional hardship and worked to make sure her sons experienced neither. Together they encouraged their sons’ self-direction and in one generation went from blue-collar to Harvard and Columbia. It’s eerie how close the Kaczynskis were to the picture of the ideal mid-century American family.
David’s book is, in a way, the least helpful parenting guide of all time. Wanda and Theodore were by David’s account exceedingly good parents: good role models, present, engaged, affectionate, supportive. How could they have raised the Unabomber? On one level it points to what my own mother calls the “cherchez la mom” fallacy—children are not direct products of their parenting. If Ted’s young adult life had gone differently after he left home for Harvard at 16, it’s totally possible that Wanda Kaczynski might have spent her last years touring the morning shows dispensing expert advice on how to raise brilliant boys instead of coping with having birthed an infamous serial killer.
The Unabomber story has always fascinated me, and I followed it closely from the earliest headlines in the late 1970s through Kaczynski’s dramatic detection, arrest and conviction two decades later.
The hows and whys have always seemed unfathomable, so, though he may be attempting the impossible, it will be interesting to see what insights David Kaczynski is able to offer.