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Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living

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The owner of the world's leading disaster management company chronicles the unseen world behind the yellow tape, and explores what it means to be human after a lifetime of caring for the dead. You have seen Robert A. Jensen--you just never knew it. As the owner of the world's largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy. Fro The owner of the world's leading disaster management company chronicles the unseen world behind the yellow tape, and explores what it means to be human after a lifetime of caring for the dead. You have seen Robert A. Jensen--you just never knew it. As the owner of the world's largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy. From the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Bali bombings, the 2004 South Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina to the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and the Grenfell Tower Fire, Jensen is at the practical level of international incidents, assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and repatriating and returning their personal effects to the surviving family members. He is also, crucially, involved in the emotional recovery that comes after a disaster: helping guide the families, governments, and companies involved, telling them what to expect and managing the unmanageable. As he puts it, "If journalists write the first rough draft of history, I put the punctuation on the past." Personal Effects is an unsparing, up-close look at the difficult work Jensen does behind the yellow tape and the lessons he learned there. The chronicle of an almost impossible and grim job, Personal Effects also tells Jensen's own story, how he came to this line of work, how he manages the chaos that is his life, and the personal toll the repeated exposure to mass death brings, in becoming what GQ called "the best at the worst job in the world." A rare glimpse into a world we all see but many know nothing about, Personal Effects is an inspiring and heartwarming story of survival and the importance of moving forward. Jensen allows his readers to see over his shoulder as he responds to disaster sites, uncovers the deceased, and cares for families to show how a strong will and desire to do good can become a path through the worst the world can throw at us.


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The owner of the world's leading disaster management company chronicles the unseen world behind the yellow tape, and explores what it means to be human after a lifetime of caring for the dead. You have seen Robert A. Jensen--you just never knew it. As the owner of the world's largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy. Fro The owner of the world's leading disaster management company chronicles the unseen world behind the yellow tape, and explores what it means to be human after a lifetime of caring for the dead. You have seen Robert A. Jensen--you just never knew it. As the owner of the world's largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy. From the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Bali bombings, the 2004 South Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina to the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and the Grenfell Tower Fire, Jensen is at the practical level of international incidents, assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and repatriating and returning their personal effects to the surviving family members. He is also, crucially, involved in the emotional recovery that comes after a disaster: helping guide the families, governments, and companies involved, telling them what to expect and managing the unmanageable. As he puts it, "If journalists write the first rough draft of history, I put the punctuation on the past." Personal Effects is an unsparing, up-close look at the difficult work Jensen does behind the yellow tape and the lessons he learned there. The chronicle of an almost impossible and grim job, Personal Effects also tells Jensen's own story, how he came to this line of work, how he manages the chaos that is his life, and the personal toll the repeated exposure to mass death brings, in becoming what GQ called "the best at the worst job in the world." A rare glimpse into a world we all see but many know nothing about, Personal Effects is an inspiring and heartwarming story of survival and the importance of moving forward. Jensen allows his readers to see over his shoulder as he responds to disaster sites, uncovers the deceased, and cares for families to show how a strong will and desire to do good can become a path through the worst the world can throw at us.

30 review for Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was a biography memoir about Robert A. Jensen and mass death. I wondered what exactly was involved and was blown away. And had no idea that investigations can painstaking often take days, weeks or more. I had chills listening to much of this and what went behind trying to uncover the destruction of these tragic events. And I commend him for staying in his field a lot longer than many. It sounded like he was an excellent person for the job. I learned a lot about where I want to sit on a plan This was a biography memoir about Robert A. Jensen and mass death. I wondered what exactly was involved and was blown away. And had no idea that investigations can painstaking often take days, weeks or more. I had chills listening to much of this and what went behind trying to uncover the destruction of these tragic events. And I commend him for staying in his field a lot longer than many. It sounded like he was an excellent person for the job. I learned a lot about where I want to sit on a plane and what often can happen during a crash. I learned about the many ways bombs can kill you. Furthermore, how remains and personal effects are handled and received. It was fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. I highly recommend this and really enjoyed it. I chose to listen to this book on audio and the narrator was good. Thanks Macmillan Audio via Netgalley. #netgalley #audiobook #Memoir

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    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 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    This is fascinating, and I really enjoyed the stories contained in the book. But it needs an enormous amount of better organization, with less repetition, and a little bit more sensitivity in the delivery. Organizing it by topic or by a linear timeline--wherein the author could refer to past and future events more coherently--would help readers considerably.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    This book turned out to be not exactly what I had expected and it could have done with a bit more editing BUT I certainly found it informative if a little depressing. It’s sort of a behind the scenes look at what happens to bodies and their ‘personal effects’ after mass disasters such as plane crashes, bombings, hurricanes and in many cases wars. Robert A. Jensen is Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services an organization that handles the aftermath of mass fatalities. Their employees in This book turned out to be not exactly what I had expected and it could have done with a bit more editing BUT I certainly found it informative if a little depressing. It’s sort of a behind the scenes look at what happens to bodies and their ‘personal effects’ after mass disasters such as plane crashes, bombings, hurricanes and in many cases wars. Robert A. Jensen is Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services an organization that handles the aftermath of mass fatalities. Their employees include forensic anthropologists, ex-police and medical examiners. I had no idea such an organization even existed. It is a job that is more involved than one can imagine as Jensen explains “….recovering missing human remains has always been as much dependent on political and legal constraints as physical ones.” (Pg.148) and “I need to know if the goal is to account for every missing person, or to identify every bit of human remains that are recovered.” (Pg.178) Having done this job for several years Jensen portrays a particularly sensitive and caring attitude towards the deceased and the deceased’s family members. I respectfully offer kudos to anyone involved in this gruesome line of work. On page 99 -100 I was reminded of the number of incredibly courageous innocent people on United Flight 93 on November 11, 2001 who stormed the cockpit to prevent the terrorist from crashing the plane into the US Capitol Building. All lost their lives for their brave efforts and the Capitol Building was saved from harm. 2021 – January 6 – a mob of angry ‘protesters’ converged on the very same US Capitol Building decimating it therefore insulting the memory and sacrifice of those brave souls on United Flight 93.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    Oh my goodness I read this so quickly I just devoured what Robert A Jensen wrote about his life, his company, and his shocking accounts handling the aftermath of disasters all over the world - like 9/11, airplane crashes, bombings, fires, and natural disasters in Haiti, Japan and in Louisiana. Robert A. Jensen owns the world’s largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy, and assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and finding Oh my goodness I read this so quickly I just devoured what Robert A Jensen wrote about his life, his company, and his shocking accounts handling the aftermath of disasters all over the world - like 9/11, airplane crashes, bombings, fires, and natural disasters in Haiti, Japan and in Louisiana. Robert A. Jensen owns the world’s largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to tragedy, and assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and finding and returning personal effects to the surviving family members. Jensen wrote a transparent recount of what happens during the recovery phase to help surviving families and loved ones find the courage to move forward and not necessarily closure as these families will never ever forget their loved ones. Thought this story deals with death and disasters, I found the writing sensitive, insightful, and truly inspirational - laden with love and respect for the survivors who must go on despite tragic losses. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this non-fiction read - a mix of true crime, memoir, story of grief and loss, and a glimpse into history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    I am a "First Reads" winner. Too much and, certainly, a lot to "unpack." 'Personal Effects' began with so much promise but, for me, quickly disintegrated with anecdote after anecdote that seemed to blend together with no distinguish. Perhaps the book took on too much? Perhaps 'Personal Effects' would have been better served by paring down the events Jensen recounted to focus on fewer that would leave this reader with a more memorable read? The "personal" became less so and the "effect" was underwhe I am a "First Reads" winner. Too much and, certainly, a lot to "unpack." 'Personal Effects' began with so much promise but, for me, quickly disintegrated with anecdote after anecdote that seemed to blend together with no distinguish. Perhaps the book took on too much? Perhaps 'Personal Effects' would have been better served by paring down the events Jensen recounted to focus on fewer that would leave this reader with a more memorable read? The "personal" became less so and the "effect" was underwhelming.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Krista | theliterateporcupine

    This is not an easy book to get through due to its subject matter. Robert Jensen is the Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services and an expert in crisis management. I was fascinated by the summary of this book and couldn't wait to read it. While I learned much from its contents, I wasn't really sure where it was going at times or what the author was trying to get at. Have you ever wondered what happens to people's bodies and personal items when they die en masse? From airplane crashes This is not an easy book to get through due to its subject matter. Robert Jensen is the Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services and an expert in crisis management. I was fascinated by the summary of this book and couldn't wait to read it. While I learned much from its contents, I wasn't really sure where it was going at times or what the author was trying to get at. Have you ever wondered what happens to people's bodies and personal items when they die en masse? From airplane crashes to bombings to hurricanes, someone has to recover the bodies (or as much as they can), identify victims and their possessions, and inform the family members of their passing. Jensen's company are the professionals. In addition to being onsite at disasters, they also have warehouses catalogued with deceased persons' possessions, ready to be delivered to the next of kin upon request. This behind-the-scenes look into disaster management will captivate its curious readers. Jensen's line of work is certainly an admirable profession, but his writing skills are lacking. The chapters themselves were divided into sections, but it jumped around and backtracked to already mentioned events so much that it was difficult to follow. It takes a special kind of person to be able to see death and destruction on such a massive scale and be able to come away not emotionally scarred. It also requires a high level of emotional self control, which Jensen seems to have. However in his writing, it seemed that he lauded himself, even over his peers for knowledge on crisis management and handling distraught people. Every situation he was directly a part of was somehow resolved because of the words he used or the directions he gave. This pattern was prevalent and I got annoyed with his stories about how great he was, but I'm hypercritical.... Fascinating, Personal, and Respectful, this is an interesting read, especially those who have lived through such disasters as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Thank you to the author, publisher, and Goodreads for this ARC giveaway win!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Robert A. Jensen is a man you hopefully never have to meet, but if you do, there isn’t another person more suitable for his job. As Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services, Jensen has made a career out of responding to some of the worst disasters of the past twenty-five years – the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Haitian Earthquake of 2010, the fire in Grenfell Tower in 2017, the Thailand tsunami in 2004 and countless other plane crashes and terrorist attacks. You would thin Robert A. Jensen is a man you hopefully never have to meet, but if you do, there isn’t another person more suitable for his job. As Chairman of Kenyon International Emergency Services, Jensen has made a career out of responding to some of the worst disasters of the past twenty-five years – the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Haitian Earthquake of 2010, the fire in Grenfell Tower in 2017, the Thailand tsunami in 2004 and countless other plane crashes and terrorist attacks. You would think that having to sort through the overwhelming amount of wreckage, personal effects and human remains would be bad enough, Robert is also tasked with meeting the families of those who have lost loved ones. There are others that are either afraid to be the bearer of bad news or will unintentionally mislead people in an effort to either soften the blow or offer up false hope, but Robert finds that being truthful and realistic is really the only course of action one can take. While Robert writes that this part of the job obviously isn’t something he enjoys, he knows that providing these families with as much information as possible will only allow them to begin their journey to processing their new reality. Not only does Robert reminisce about his experiences in disasters both natural and man-made, he also discusses the advances in science over his career with regards to identifying human remains. He also shines a light on the political difficulties that come with repatriating those we’ve lost following a large-scale disaster. Robert’s work can be time sensitive and having to navigate the bureaucratic waters is frustrating to read about, especially the chapter focusing on Hurricane Katrina, an event that was not only a weather disaster, but also an organizational one. The world we live in is not always an easy one and Robert has certainly seen the worst it has to offer. It is comforting to know that there is someone out there with empathy in his role. Robert could have easily grown numb or even jaded following disaster after disaster, but he never fails to put himself in the shoes of those who have suffered tremendous loss. PERSONAL EFFECTS is one of the most engaging and hopeful memoirs I have read in quite some time. It proves there are still good people out there in an age where every event is so divisive and politicized that we often forget our own humanity and capacity for good.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I am not going to rate this book or write a review until it is published because it has very obviously not seen the pencil of an editor. However, if we are friends on GR and you happen to also have an ARC of this book, feel free to send me a message and I will share my thoughts with you directly.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    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 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 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. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laurann

    Robert Jensen does an amazing job detailing how he helps people through the toughest times in their lives. He and his team go in after disasters, whether caused by man or mother nature and helps to identify the remains after these tragic events. He discusses how treating the dead with the utmost respect is the main priority for him. He is also the one called on many times to help the families who lost loved ones navigate the next steps. His compassion comes through on the page. He has helped aft Robert Jensen does an amazing job detailing how he helps people through the toughest times in their lives. He and his team go in after disasters, whether caused by man or mother nature and helps to identify the remains after these tragic events. He discusses how treating the dead with the utmost respect is the main priority for him. He is also the one called on many times to help the families who lost loved ones navigate the next steps. His compassion comes through on the page. He has helped after plane crashes, the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and more. The work he and his team does is so important. He brings calm to the storm and helps families and loved ones to start the process of healing after losing a loved one in a major disaster. I absolutely recommend this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Morgan

    I really hope that this book gets the attention it deserves. Honestly, I wish I could give it 10 stars and I'm not just saying that as a homeland security/emergency management grad student. So Robert A. Jensen does the job that none of us think about, he travels to mass fatalities to recover and identify as many human remains or personal belongings as possible to give families answers. Events like tsunamis, earthquakes, plane crashes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and even war, are all a part o I really hope that this book gets the attention it deserves. Honestly, I wish I could give it 10 stars and I'm not just saying that as a homeland security/emergency management grad student. So Robert A. Jensen does the job that none of us think about, he travels to mass fatalities to recover and identify as many human remains or personal belongings as possible to give families answers. Events like tsunamis, earthquakes, plane crashes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and even war, are all a part of the experiences that he tells and most are events we've seen in the news. However, this is not just another 'Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?' where we are just getting answers to the questions we don't want to ask. Jensen does go into some of the processes used to make identifications but he reflects deeply on how there's no such thing as "normal" in grief, especially when it comes to mass grief. He also acknowledges how his work influences how he lives his life in a very reflective way. Jensen details the importance of respect to both the dead and the living, while also highlighting the need for respecting how different families and cultures deal with death. Even though it is a morbid topic, I found this book somewhat reassuring and I honestly could just go on and on about how much I enjoyed it. I am not a big memoir/nonfiction fan but this is a book I will not be shutting up about for the foreseeable future. One of the biggest takeaways is how important it is for us to talk about death and that it shouldn't make us uncomfortable. With COVID-19, its lessons have become even more timely as we have to grapple with the extent of loss that has occurred over the past year. Personal Effects is a must read that teaches us a lot about how we recover the dead in almost impossible situations, how we as a society tend to deny the reality of death, and the first steps of healing from these mass fatality situations. Thanks to NetGalley and St Martin's Press for my ARC.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Note: If GR gave half-stars, I'd give this 3.5. "Personal Effects" is the career memoir of Robert Jensen, head of the world's largest private disaster management company. Kenyon, his company, steps in when the unthinkable has happened: they retrieve human remains and effects, work to sort out their ownership, work with families to return them to next of kin in a way that respects the family's wishes and the deceased's individual beliefs. While Jensen's work is by nature grim, the book's interest i Note: If GR gave half-stars, I'd give this 3.5. "Personal Effects" is the career memoir of Robert Jensen, head of the world's largest private disaster management company. Kenyon, his company, steps in when the unthinkable has happened: they retrieve human remains and effects, work to sort out their ownership, work with families to return them to next of kin in a way that respects the family's wishes and the deceased's individual beliefs. While Jensen's work is by nature grim, the book's interest is not in gore. As the author moves from one international tragedy to another, he describes the logistical challenges that made this work necessary and the important communication role he and his colleagues serve. Over and again, he emphasizes the human reason for the specific choices they make, the tremendous respect and care that dictates the level of hyper-organization with which they approach their work. For those looking for morbid details, for the record--you won't find that here. While the author acknowledges situations in which the deceased's remains have been fragmented (an airplane crash, for example), he doesn't provide or dwell on these details. He notes facts of body condition as needed, but does so as tastefully as possible. What's iffier: This isn't a critique but simply a matter of personal desire--I wish the author had spent more time on the different disasters and the responses to them. I grasp why the author didn't (his story is more about his entire career, speaking to the unique challenges and lessons of each disaster; wading into every detail wouldn't have served that overarching goal). That said, I would have liked more info on each of these, just for my personal curiosity. Note: This review is based on an ARC from Netgalley.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Poptart19 (ren)

    4.5 stars This is an excellent book in terms of both content & writing, on a topic I’m personally invested in: disaster relief & crisis management. The particular focus of this book is on the recovery of human remains of victims of mass fatality events, & care & advocacy for these victims’ loved ones. The writer has decades of expertise in this field, & writes from a place of deep compassion & respect for human life & dignity. [What I liked:] •I was excited to read this book, & was definitely no 4.5 stars This is an excellent book in terms of both content & writing, on a topic I’m personally invested in: disaster relief & crisis management. The particular focus of this book is on the recovery of human remains of victims of mass fatality events, & care & advocacy for these victims’ loved ones. The writer has decades of expertise in this field, & writes from a place of deep compassion & respect for human life & dignity. [What I liked:] •I was excited to read this book, & was definitely not disappointed by the experience! I took a course in grad school on crisis management & disaster relief (focusing on data & communications technology support), so this book is right up my alley but centers on an aspect of the field I hadn’t explored before: caring for the dead & those they’ve left behind. This book is very informative & educational, yet accessible to a broad audience. •The writer sincerely & respectfully addresses difficult topics including mass fatality incidents, large scale tragedies, & the handling of human remains. His approach to his work is based in treating the deceased with dignity & caring for their grieving family & friends. These attitudes clearly come through in this narrative, & I’m impressed by how sensitively & articulately he discusses such complex & painful issues. •I was not expecting this book to be so personal, in fact at times it feels like a memoir as much as an informational text. However, I enjoyed hearing the writer’s personal thoughts on his work & how his professional approaches have been shaped by his experiences, as well as how he himself has been shaped by them. For example, he discusses how he personally manages the psychological impact of being around constant tragedy. I think this adds to the reader’s understanding of what it’s like to work in this field. •The writer does a great job of addressing the wide variety & complexity of events his teams are called in to support (plane crashes, war zones, terrorist attacks, etc.), & the organizations they support (local & national governments, international aid organizations, airline corporations, family members of victims, etc.). In many situations there are several entities involved in the crisis management, often resulting in procedural & communicational confusion. I enjoyed learning about how the writer & his teams help these entities navigate the chaos & work together, as well as how policies & best practices have been shaped by lessons learned from specific mass fatality events throughout the last few decades. •The specifics on the development of technology used in identification of human remains over time, the technical & logistic difficulties encountered (preservation & transportation of remains, conflicting cultural customs, etc.), safety assessments, & political tensions were quite interesting too. I learned a lot from this book, & never felt bogged down by jargon or superfluous detail. [What I didn’t like as much:] •The organization of the book felt a bit arbitrary. Some chapters are cohesive & focused topically, but others seem to jump around with unrelated material & anecdotes lumped together. This didn’t greatly detract from my reading comprehension, it mainly just puzzled me. I think the book would benefit from a more thoughtfully constructed narrative structure. •This is not necessarily a flaw, but be aware that the writer approaches this book from a very personal standpoint. It’s not written as a purely informational text, so he does share his personal opinions & feelings on issues like how to make sense of horrific loss, the importance of having a loved one’s remains to begin the process of grieving & healing, how governments can best address the aftermath of civil war & genocide by respecting the remains of victims, etc. He never represents his views as objectively universal facts, & emphasizes the importance of respecting cultural context & the individuality of grieving experiences. Just don’t be surprised if he (respectfully) expresses views you may not agree with, & hopefully this aspect of the book won’t hinder your reading experience. CW: death, natural disasters, war, genocide, accidents (plane crashes, etc.), terrorist attacks; discussion of embalming practices, cremation, identifying human remains & body fragments, & forensic science techniques [I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you for the book!]

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bonny

    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 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    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 Fe 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sandra The Old Woman in a Van

    What an intriguing toping for a book. Disasters happen. We've all seen them play out on live TV, and a smaller number have unfortunately experienced disaster firsthand. But HOW countries, states, cities, and companies manage disasters is an expansive blank space for most of us. SO I was very excited to read this book, written by Robert A Jenson, one of the only people with the life experiences to be its author. Jenson heads the world's largest disaster management company, and he's responded to a What an intriguing toping for a book. Disasters happen. We've all seen them play out on live TV, and a smaller number have unfortunately experienced disaster firsthand. But HOW countries, states, cities, and companies manage disasters is an expansive blank space for most of us. SO I was very excited to read this book, written by Robert A Jenson, one of the only people with the life experiences to be its author. Jenson heads the world's largest disaster management company, and he's responded to almost every significant global disaster for decades. I'm sure his colleagues, friends, and publishers have encouraged him to write his story. It is worthy of telling. BUT, and this is a big but... Jenson needed a ghostwriter to help him tell his tale. He's excellent at disasters but not so much at organizing his story. A professional writer could have done so much to improve the readability of this book. Personal Effects reads like a massive collection of randomly strung-together anecdotes. The content is there, but it's all over the place. I believe Jenson tried to put together a coherent story, as his chapter titles suggest, but I never felt a cohesive narrative. I can't give this book higher than three stars because of its poor organization. Personal Effects is closer to a first draft or even notes used to pull together a complete story. My brain tried to do this as I read, but ultimately it was just a mish-mash of information going nowhere. It was interesting information, just not a book. I received a NetGalley copy of the book in return for an unbiased review.

  18. 4 out of 5

    April

    Thank you to Mr. Robert A. Jensen and St. Martin's Press for an ARC of Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Reaches Me About Caring for the Living. I always mention this in reviews- I don't give away spoilers. I don't think that applies in this case, though. I was intrigued by the Goodreads blurb written and Personal Effects. I admit I read about serial killers, watched Making a Murderer, watch Dateline, a few trials, etc. I thought Mr. Jensen's perspective would be interesting and enlight Thank you to Mr. Robert A. Jensen and St. Martin's Press for an ARC of Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Reaches Me About Caring for the Living. I always mention this in reviews- I don't give away spoilers. I don't think that applies in this case, though. I was intrigued by the Goodreads blurb written and Personal Effects. I admit I read about serial killers, watched Making a Murderer, watch Dateline, a few trials, etc. I thought Mr. Jensen's perspective would be interesting and enlightening and it certainly was. There were a few moments when I gasped while reading this book over the past two days. (again, Spoilers). I remember most of the tragedies he responded to and could place myself back at that moment -especially of 9/11. I was alone on the 16th floor of a high rise in Houston listening to a co-worker call to tell me about the first plane. While speaking, the 2nd plane hit. It gives me peace to know there is someone like Mr. Jensen taking care of disasters. We can't stop disasters from happening and he sounds like exactly the person who should and does respond. I hope to never have to meet him but if I am in such a situation, I hope he is there to help guide me. From a psychological perspective, it was interesting to hear of the many ways people handle hearing about death. It was also very telling to see the fear corporations experience when it is their company involved. I learned much about tragedies I was aware of but didn't know many details. Mr. Jensen writes very clearly and teaches the history of the disaster very well. Personal Effects is shocking and sad but does have many moments of heartfelt peace in it. I loved reading about the many monuments created to remember the lost. I feel peace knowing I have a will with detailed instructions for my family upon my death regardless of how that happens. I also want to note the cover is heartbreakingly appropriate showing belongings recovered from the lost. Thank you again - this book will stay with me for a long time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    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 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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nima Morgan

    An amazing and extremely fascinating book. It provided so many answers to questions that I didn't even know I had. Mr. Jensen has had an amazing career providing a service for people/ countries/ and agencies in crisis. He and his company are the folks that provide a sense of calm and reason in a time of great turbulence. Definitley worth a read. Thank you for this ARC. #PersonalEffects #MacmillanAudio #NetGalley An amazing and extremely fascinating book. It provided so many answers to questions that I didn't even know I had. Mr. Jensen has had an amazing career providing a service for people/ countries/ and agencies in crisis. He and his company are the folks that provide a sense of calm and reason in a time of great turbulence. Definitley worth a read. Thank you for this ARC. #PersonalEffects #MacmillanAudio #NetGalley

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nima Morgan

    An amazing and extremely fascinating book. It provided so many answers to questions that I didn't even know I had. Mr. Jensen has had an amazing career providing a service for people/ countries/ and agencies in crisis. He and his company are the folks that provide a sense of calm and reason in a time of great turbulence. Definitley worth a read. Thank you for this ARC. #PersonalEffects #MacmillanAudio #NetGalley An amazing and extremely fascinating book. It provided so many answers to questions that I didn't even know I had. Mr. Jensen has had an amazing career providing a service for people/ countries/ and agencies in crisis. He and his company are the folks that provide a sense of calm and reason in a time of great turbulence. Definitley worth a read. Thank you for this ARC. #PersonalEffects #MacmillanAudio #NetGalley

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book would have benefited hugely with a good editor. Interesting subject but ruined by bad writing. The author is not a writer, that was very obvious. Tedious and very boring in parts, a lot of circumlocution

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ray 노잠

    I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book but whatever I got it was not it. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book but whatever I got it was not it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Tangen

    Exceptional. Appreciate what the author does and how he does it. The topic sounds morbid but isn't at all and is handled very eloquently. Very complicated situations made even more so by cultural and language differences but the author and his company live by strong principles and processes for the long term good and well being of many parties involved, not just the loudest, most demanding voices or most politically expedient. Exceptional. Appreciate what the author does and how he does it. The topic sounds morbid but isn't at all and is handled very eloquently. Very complicated situations made even more so by cultural and language differences but the author and his company live by strong principles and processes for the long term good and well being of many parties involved, not just the loudest, most demanding voices or most politically expedient.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This was a deeply interesting book, written with great respect and insight. It was written with grace and frankness. I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Wow, just wow. This man has seen the world in ways most of us never will. What a story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Super fascinating book about something none of us think of - dealing with the personal effects of victims of mass tragedies.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bonnye Reed

    I received a free electronic ARC of this memoir from Netgalley, Robert A. Jensen, and St. Martin's Press. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read Personal Effects of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. This is a book I encourage friends and family to read. The sub-title says it all - What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living. I guess thinking about the logistics of sorting out mass disasters is something I never re I received a free electronic ARC of this memoir from Netgalley, Robert A. Jensen, and St. Martin's Press. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read Personal Effects of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. This is a book I encourage friends and family to read. The sub-title says it all - What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living. I guess thinking about the logistics of sorting out mass disasters is something I never really wanted to consider. What an enormous responsibility! Robert Jensen's first exposure to the many facets of death was during his time serving as a young man. He was a police officer in California, a serviceman in the Mortuary Affairs Unit in Bosnia after their four years war, and Haiti after their wars and earthquakes, but his first exposure to large scale, politically hot catastrophe in the United States was the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Thereafter, even as a civilian, he played a lifetime's part in the hot spots around d the world, from earthquakes to hurricanes to the war dead and those slain as the result of political rebellions. If we read about it in the news, chances are he was there, taking care of the dead. Jensen's experiences, as horrific as they were, offer a much-appreciated guideline to the proper process of finding out the answers for the questions of the survivors of the dead. In this world we live in today, this is something we should get right. pub date September 28, 2021 St. Martin's Press Reviewed on September 29. 2o21, at Goodreads, Netgalley, AmazonSmile, Barnes&Noble, BookBub, Kobo, and GooglePlay.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Date reviewed/posted: May 28, 2021 Publication date: September 28, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave ( #fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. Plus it is hot as all heck and nothing is more appealing than sitting in front of a fan with a kindle.! I requested and rece Date reviewed/posted: May 28, 2021 Publication date: September 28, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave ( #fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. Plus it is hot as all heck and nothing is more appealing than sitting in front of a fan with a kindle.! I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. The owner of the world’s leading disaster management company chronicles the unseen world behind the yellow tape and explores what it means to be human after a lifetime of caring for the dead. You have seen Robert A. Jensen—you just never knew it. As the owner of the world’s largest disaster management company, he has spent most of his adult life responding to the tragedy. From the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Bali bombings, the 2004 South Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina to the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and the Grenfell Tower Fire, Jensen is at the practical level of international incidents, assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and repatriating and returning their personal effects to the surviving family members. He is also, crucially, involved in the emotional recovery that comes after a disaster: helping guide the families, governments, and companies involved, telling them what to expect and managing the unmanageable. As he puts it, “If journalists write the first rough draft of history, I put the punctuation on the past.” Personal Effects is an unsparing, up-close look at the difficult work Jensen does behind the yellow tape and the lessons he learned there. The chronicle of an almost impossible and grim job, Personal Effects also tells Jensen’s own story, how he came to this line of work, how he manages the chaos that is his life, and the personal toll the repeated exposure to mass death brings, in becoming what GQ called “the best at the worst job in the world.” A rare glimpse into a world we all see but many know nothing about, Personal Effects is an inspiring and heartwarming story of survival and the importance of moving forward. Jensen allows his readers to see over his shoulder as he responds to disaster sites, uncovers the deceased, and cares for families to show how a strong will and desire to do good can become a path through the worst the world can throw at us. Mr. Jensen does a job that not many people could do .. just watch the sublime "Sunshine Cleaning" to understand that statement more. This is not a book for everyone - it is a serious book that is to be contemplated and enjoyed - I plan to re-read it once hubby and sister have inhaled it as well. Clean up is physically and mentally hard and chaotic and he's a rockstar hero to do this job AND share this story about how he learned from his work. It is wonderfully written and presented and I will recommend this book to friends, family, patrons, book clubs, and people reading books in the park as we do … I have had some of my best conversations about books down by the Thames! This is a book that needed to be written - we need to remember those we lost and this proves it. As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 🏚 🏚 🏚 🏚 🏚 (the closest I can get to a disaster was a derelict house!)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    I have a bit of a morbid streak, and I admit it, I like books about death (not books on grieving but books on the science/mortuary side of things). Naturally, this one jumped out at me as one that might be up my alley. And while it was and I greatly enjoyed it, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. After all, to counter the depressing subject matter, a lot of books about death are written in a pretty quirky style, see the popularity of Caitlin Doughty. Mr. Jensen’s style could not be more oppos I have a bit of a morbid streak, and I admit it, I like books about death (not books on grieving but books on the science/mortuary side of things). Naturally, this one jumped out at me as one that might be up my alley. And while it was and I greatly enjoyed it, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. After all, to counter the depressing subject matter, a lot of books about death are written in a pretty quirky style, see the popularity of Caitlin Doughty. Mr. Jensen’s style could not be more opposite. See, he’s a former Sheriff’s deputy and served in the US Army for 20 years in their Mortuary division. He’s no manic pixie dreamgirl who find death romantic (not that there’s anything wrong with that! There’s space for both in the world.) Instead, he began working in this world by necessity as it was part of his work, and only later did he find he was good at it and made it his life’s work (since leaving the army, he’s had his own firm that works with mass casualty events around the world.) My other inaccurate assumption about this book was that Mr. Jensen somehow happened into people’s personal effects and had to research and track down who they belonged to, one by one, like a quiet small-scale detective. That is pretty much not at all what he and his company does. They are called to go to a plane crash or a tsunami site or an earthquake, and often (not always–it depends on the contract) they are involved in recovering bodies, and the effects that go along with them. A lot of the time (like in plane crashes, apartment building fires, the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City), they know exactly who was in there and so while yes, they do have to match up people and remains and effects, they’re working from a manifest of some sort. With natural disasters there is more detective work, but desperate family members are usually on hand or on the phone, providing dental records and DNA samples. I was very impressed with how respectfully he treats both the deceased, and their families. It was interesting to learn that in the military, when bodies are being transported, the convention is for no one but the commander of the mortuary service, to know who is in what casket, so that they are all treated the same, and a general\’s remains are not treated better than a private’s. I agree with that. His main point throughout is that no one is ever really prepared (although airlines are better than most, but that’s partly due to legislation that forced procedures on them), and openness and honesty are the best tactics. While leaders dither behind the scenes about how to phrase things without getting blamed or sounding bad, he’s often called in to speak out instead. He points out time and time again that loved ones can and will take bad news, as long as it’s given to them without bullshit or defensiveness. This book certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those who loved Mary Roach’s Stiff or Caitlin Doughty’s books, this is a very different angle, both in what he actually does (particularly the scale) and also the tone, which is much more matter-of-fact, nuts and bolts, respectful straightforwardness. I could almost hear his voice in my ear as I read, it was so distinctive.

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