The Unabomber Manifesto
A Beautiful Mind
In what little we learned of the movements of Theodore Kaczynski before and during the seventeen years of bombings that killed three people and injured twenty-nine and led to the charges on which he will be sentenced in May, there seemed something obstinately, if not recently, familiar, arresting details of place and class and fractured expectations in a curiously earlier American mold, the sketchy outline of a kind of Dreiser character. Here we had the Chicago-born son of the Polish sausagemaker and the mother who dedicated herself to cultivating the apparent early brilliance of her firstborn child: figures from a midwestern Bildungsroman before the world wars. Here we had the sixteen-year-old scholarship student at Harvard (the same novel, at the point in which the yearning son of the prairie West comes up against the lazy entitlement of the East), his cubicle in the service quarters of Eliot House littered with takeout containers of molding coffee while he argued Kant in an all-night cafeteria. Here we had the graduate student at Michigan who worked in a field of calculus so outside the mainstream that he was advised in the interests of a career to abandon it, who stubbornly refused, and who, at the time he received his doctorate and was hired by the mathematics department at Berkeley, was judged by the chairman of that department to be “probably one of the top twenty to twenty-five PhDs out of eight hundred coming out that year.”
In the fall of 1967, Theodore Kazcynski, who appeared into his twenty-fifth year to have remained largely untouched by the diversions and deflections of his own time, arrived at Berkeley as an assistant professor: one of the few, in a famously high-powered department, believed to be on an assured tenure track. Two years later, despite the attempts of the department to keep him, he abruptly left both Berkeley and academic life, a disconnect perhaps less noticeable in the distractions of 1969 in Berkeley (riots on Telegraph Avenue, People’s Park, Ronald Reagan sending in the National Guard) than it might have seemed before or later.
After this unexplained break, not much, not even the retreat into real wilderness that would become the given of his tabloid persona, just a mean sojourn in the raw Western empty. There was the period in Salt Lake when he supported himself doing odd jobs. There was the purchase with his younger brother David of the small Montana plot, not quite an acre and a half four miles outside Lincoln and seven hundred yards from an operating sawmill, from which, as it turned out, he would venture only sporadically for the rest of his life as a free man. There were the bus trips: Lincoln to Helena, Helena to Butte or Missoula for Salt Lake, connect out of Salt Lake for Sacramento or San Francisco. There was the fourteen-dollar-a-night hotel in Helena, the Park. There was the transient hotel near the Greyhound bus station in Sacramento, the Royal, $31.90 a night …
Irrational Numbers October 8, 1998