Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Deadly Wandering - Matt Richtel

First line: "Are you comfortable, Reggie?"

A Deadly Wandering is the story of a deadly car accident--and those impacted by it--weaved into the history and research on technology as well as its affects on the human brain.  The connection? The car accident involved a teenager who was texting while he drove.

Reggie Shaw was on his way to work in the early hours of September 22 when he veered left of center, clipping an oncoming car and sending it spinning directly into the path of a F250 and trailer full of heavy equipment. The oncoming car's passengers, two rocket scientists on their way to work at ATK systems, were both killed instantly.

The drive of the F250 had been following Reggie Shaw and saw him veer left of center several times before hitting the scientists. But when the Utah State Trooper questioned Reggie, the teen didn't remember anything about the seconds leading up to the impact. He told the trooper he hydroplaned.

Both scientists left behind wives and children.

The incident may have ended at this with Reggie being cited, but it was the determination of the State Trooper and his nagging feeling that something more than road conditions caused this accident that ultimately ended in a groundbreaking prosecution in Utah.

Matt Richtel takes readers through the lives of Reggie, the scientists families, and a victims' advocate while he follows the investigation of the Utah State Trooper. This element of the book is emotional because while Reggie caused the deaths of the two fathers, he isn't an easy villain. Richtel brings to life his compassion and drive to be a good person--before and after the accident, it was simply his character.

The other part of A Deadly Wandering is an examination of the studies and findings on human attention and how technology affects the human brain. Richtel looks at the pioneering work of several neuroscientists whose research works to hone in on the human brain's functions and capacities. Some of their findings are expected but many are surprising and all are fascinating.

A Deadly Wandering is a complex book, given all the parts intertwined. And Richtel creates a suspenseful effect in this work of non-fiction by alternating between each of the accident's players as well the neuroscientists, their research and the history of the technology. A lot of parts coming together to form the whole.

The greatest strength of A Deadly Wandering is its relevance to almost any reader. While most wouldn't consider this an entertaining beach read, it's important to anyone who uses a cell phone, a computer, a technological social network, an automobile or... heck, never mind, this book is relevant to everyone.

The one drawback I felt reading the book was that the two types of content being pulled together made for some awkward sentence construction at times when the stories of the accident's players were told. There were times when the writing felt stiff and stilted--more appropriate for data and formal report--as opposed to flowing and natural to bring forward emotion and authenticity.

One of the highlights of the book for me involves a neuroscientist named Dr. Atchley who lives in an underground house in Kansas:

"In the garage, he parks a Subaru with a personalized license plate. It reads ATTEND. When asked to explain, he jokes: 'Because "Turn off your f*@#ing cell phone" is too long for a license plate.'"

That may ultimately be the biggest lesson A Deadly Wandering imparts, but it is far from the only one.

A Deadly Wandering is available in paperback from William Morrow (9780062284075) and as an unabridged audio (9780062350763), narrated by Fred Berman, from Harper Audio.

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My review today is part of the TLC book tour for A Deadly Wandering. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about this timely book. You can also learn more about A Deadly Wandering at the book's website.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.


Kay June 11, 2015 at 2:26 PM  

This book sounds really, really interesting and I'm putting it on my list at Audible. Think it would be one that I would do well with on audio. You know, Austin passed a law that took effect earlier this year - no electronic devices in your hand while driving. This includes phones, iPad's, Kindles, iPod's, etc. You can use Bluetooth for hands free talking, listening - but if the car is moving, the device cannot be in your hand. You can pick it back up at a stoplight. My husband, who commutes into Austin every day, says the compliance is so-so at this point. He has seen people talking, texting, reading their iPad (propped on the steering wheel), reading an e-reader, even someone with their laptop propped between them and the steering wheel. He has a big pickup and can see down into other cars. We'll see how it goes. Me, I'm paranoid when I'm driving in Austin (not so much anymore), but I do have Bluetooth in my car.

jen_forbus June 11, 2015 at 8:36 PM  

Kay, I was very surprised about a lot that is in this book. They mention someone who discourage the early production of phones for cars because of the safety issues...and the powers that be didn't want to hear about safety issues--they were only concerned with selling a product. But what was especially surprising to me were studies they did of people's attention when they were driving while holding a phone, while using hands free, or while listening to the radio. Both holding and hands free had significantly higher distraction results over listening to the radio. It's kind of scary!

HeatherTLC June 13, 2015 at 12:14 PM  

This truly does seem to be a book that literally everyone needs to read. Very thought-provoking and eye-opening.

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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