• Personal Effects

  • What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living
  • By: Robert A. Jensen
  • Narrated by: Adam Barr, Robert A. Jensen
  • Length: 9 hrs and 46 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (31 ratings)

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Personal Effects  By  cover art

Personal Effects

By: Robert A. Jensen
Narrated by: Adam Barr,Robert A. Jensen
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Publisher's summary

This program includes an introduction read by the author.

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, and the Bali bombings, to the 2004 South Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, and the Grenfell Tower Fire, Jensen has been 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 explains, “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 listeners 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.

A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin's Press

©2021 Robert A. Jensen (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

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Very informative and eye-opening

Robert A. Jensen’s nonfiction work “Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me about Caring for the Living” may just be one of the best, yet somehow overlooked, books from 2021.
Born in 1967, the 57-year-old Jensen is a former U. S. Army officer; he later owned Kenyon International Emergency Services, a company that responds to fatal and non-fatal incidents.
According to Jensen’s website robertajensen.com, Jensen spent 35 years responding to disasters.
“While at Kenyon,” his website states, “Robert responded to numerous mass fatalities including the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, 2004 Asian Tsunami, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, 2010 Haitian Earthquake, and several airline disasters.”
Prior to his time at Kenyon, while still in the Army, he also responded to the Oklahoma City Bombing tragedy.
According to his website, in his role as a director coordinating large-scale incidents, Jensen worked in “assisting with the recovery of bodies, identifying victims, and repatriating and returning their personal effects to the surviving family members.”
“Personal Effects” is Jensen’s insider’s view on what happens when a tragedy with numerous fatalities occurs.
For example, after working an airplane crash and sifting through all of the items he and his team recovered, Jensen tells how he had to return to a family the personal effects, which included two passports and some hair curlers, of a young man who had been killed in the crash more than a year earlier.
The mother had always doubted her son had even been on the plane, but the hair curlers, which had belonged to her own mother and were in the suitcase her son had borrowed, made her come to terms with the loss of her child.
Until that moment, because her son’s body had never been recovered, the mother had no closure, but after the return of her child’s belongings, she did.
Little revelations like this one and hundreds of others are peppered throughout the book.
The book is eye opening. Tragedies like the ones Jensen describes happen all the time, and while they are usually reported on the news for a few days, the real work of the tragedy begins once the cameras disappear. The real work begins when teams like Jensen’s show up.
The narration for this work is quite good, but the reader was a little slow for me. I had to speed it up to 1.5, which was perfect.
Also, there are a few times when the author comes off as self-congratulatory (such as when he mentions writing a letter to try to get bodies released, though he is not sure it was ever read, but the bodies were released a week later), and that can be slightly off-putting, but it does not happen often enough to take away from the overall message of the book.
A fascinating read, “Personal Effects” should be on everyone’s reading list.

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interesting line of work

This was a very interesting line of work to learn about.

I was put off by a few things that I had to push aside so I could enjoy this book. As a retired military officer I could not believe he would say he might not "turn the key" when he was a missile officer if Trump had been president at the time. That is an extreme statement for someone in that position to say the least. His party bias comes through several other times in the book.

I would not let that stop me from recommending the book.

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Such an Interesting Story

Robert A Jenson has lived such an interesting life with such a unique story to tell. Faced with the world's worst situations he finds a way to show it's important to respect the dead and those who mourn.

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Amazing job and story

Gave real insight into job I never thought about. The compassion for those lost and their families make me know there is good in the world.

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