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Odysseus in America

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Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., is a staff psychiatrist in the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston. His patients are Vietnam combat veterans with severe, chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Visiting scholar-at-large at the U.S. Naval War College in 2001, Dr. Shay speaks frequently at the invitation of U.S. military services, universities, and colleges. He lives in the Boston area.


It's not exactly a secret that those returning from war often have difficulties adjusting to the peaceful life at home. Nor is it a secret that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans have had emotionally rocky homecomings. The main reasons Vietnam veterans have suffered disproportionately have been identified in many books. Shay (Achilles in Vietnam), a Tufts Medical School faculty member, serves as a Veterans Administration psychiatrist administering to emotionally troubled Vietnam veterans and offers his second study engaging the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, in order to describe and explain veterans' plight. Shay presents an amalgam of scholarly Homeric interpretation and case studies of maladjusted Vietnam veterans, arguing that leaders-from top policy makers to drill instructors-hold the key to preventing many psychological problems in the military. He advocates fostering a climate of community at the unit level by training and supporting competent, open-minded, ethical military leaders who have the full support of their superiors. While it's an intriguing argument, the case studies do not contribute to existing literature, and the tone of the book-which contains countless italicized words and phrases-comes off too often as hectoring or stridently didactic. Readers with a working knowledge of The Odyssey and a familiarity with the effects of PTSD among Americans who served in the Vietnam War may get the most out of this book, which could affect policy if it finds its way to upper echelons of command. (Nov.)

Shay, a psychiatrist in the Department of Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, has worked with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans for many years. In his first book, Achilles in Vietnam, Shay explored the stresses and psychological injuries caused by armed combat, using the insight of Homer's Iliad. That book was warmly received in both the medical and the military professions. In the first third of the new book, Shay uses Odysseus's epic journey to explore the stresses faced by veterans who return home, still scarred by their intense experiences. In Shay's interpretation, Odysseus experienced nearly all of the symptoms he has observed in returned veterans of modern wars fearfulness, inability to trust or be close to anyone, emotional outbursts, violence, criminal activity, sexual adventurism, and so forth. Clearly, Homer understood and appreciated what war really meant to the participants. The second section deals with healing techniques. The third contains Shay's suggested measures for prevention of such long-lasting injuries. Whether or not one agrees with Shay's prescriptive measures, this is a mandatory purchase for any library serving the military or their families, or where medical professionals deal with any kind of stress-related disorder. It is also a fresh take on a literary classic. Highly recommended. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor USMC, retired, Marine Corps Gazette Groundbreaking work in understanding, preventing, and treating mental injuries....Leaders at all levels would profit from a journey with both Achilles and Odysseus. Homer and Jonathan Shay are excellent tour guides. Steven Pressfield Author of Gates of Fire and Last of the Amazons Jonathan Shay plumbs the Odysseus myth for healing, working the real-life agonies of his own clients at the V.A. in Boston into the wisdom left to us by Homer. An important book. Gregory Nagy Professor of classical Greek literature, Harvard University A true American Odyssey. Asa Baber Vietnam-era marine veteran and the Men columnist for Playboy One hell of a book. It is well written, honest, healing, and aimed at all of us who have trouble handling the stress of our crazy world. Thomas E. Ricks Defense correspondent, The Washington Post Should be read by anyone interested in the effects of combat on troops or in the meaning of Homer's works -- and by everyone who wants to better understand today's United States. Library Journal [A] fresh take on a literary classic. Richard Rhodes Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Why they Kill and The Making of the Atomic Bomb A brilliant successor to Shay's groundbreaking Achilles in Vietnam.

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