Book Review: Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story

Imagine doing some homework in your apartment on a Sunday afternoon, working like a good medical or pre-medical student on a strenuous assignment, until you suddenly feel the cold steel of a shotgun barrel pressed against the back of your head. This is exactly what happened to Dr. Berk in Amarillo, Texas.

Across a lifespan, a human being has the potential to experience many different things. Things that are beautiful, normal, or terrible. While we all experience birth and death, few of us ever experience a kidnapping.

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story

Dr. Berk is one of those who did. Being a physician, Dr. Berk’s case is particularly interesting because his kidnapping is even more rare than usual. The author – Dr. Berk himself, offers a unique perspective and spectacular insight on the many aspects of his life that surround his kidnapping and his desire to live and protect his family.

His account is both detailed and philosophical. This non-fiction book is interesting for all people, not only people from a medical background. Dr. Berk allows the reader to slip into his mind, the mind of a clinician who has learned and strives to be both reasonable and calm under all circumstances. He calls this ability “aequanimitas” in reference to Sir William Osler the founder of Johns Hopkins University:

On Aequanimtas: Imperturbability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, and clearness of judgment in moments of great peril, immobility, impassiveness. p. 86


Anatomy of a Kidnapping is a stunning autobiography that centers not only around the kidnapping of Dr. Berk. The author explores his own life intensely; going through medical school, medical residency, becoming the dean of a medical student, getting married and becoming a father. It seems as if all these milestones and experiences have shaped and prepared him for his biggest challenge yet.

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story is a book that feels utterly complete because it switches between events in the past and his kidnapping in the presence, as it was happening right now. This keeps the reader interested and puts everything into perspective.

The plan was to get him money so he would let me go. But now he wants me to take him back to my house. I begin to panic at the thoughts of taking him anywhere near my family again. A gold sweat overcomes me. I plead with him to let me go. I have one episode of dry heave. p. 55

The Kidnapper

The Kidnapper is a methamphetamine addict, a drug generally linked to violence, homicide, and suicide. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that the kidnapper is on a criminal rampage that will not end voluntarily. He is as unpredictable as ruthless and extremely cautious, he seems utterly desperate.

From the conversations during the kidnapping, the reader gets to know the kidnapper intimately. He learns about his past transgressions and errors, the death of the kidnapper’s wife, and time in prison. It seemed as if Dr. Berk’s carefully crafted life could shatter into a million pieces at any point. This book is truly multi-perspective and covers ethical and legal aspects.

What I enjoyed the most

Dr. Steven Berk

Dr. Steven Berk

What I loved most was the medical lens of this book. Dr. Berk describes his failures and victories which have all helped shape him during medical school, residency, and while being a physician. Later he heads medical schools as faculty and even dean. For example, when he writes about the joys and challenges of doing residency at a Native American reservation in Arizona, he writes about diagnosing a case of diphtheria, an extremely rare but dangerous and contagious disease. In a different case he wrestles an armed homeless person to the ground. Many of these anecdotes are funny and often sad. They are a sneak-peak into the life of a physician.

I highly recommend Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story. The book is really suited for anyone, everything is understandable and precise, without any jargon or required previous knowledge about medicine. The kidnapping parts of the book read like a thriller and kept me turning pages. See for yourself how intriguing a doctor’s story can really be.