The year 2005 marked the 20th anniversary for John Burnett as a reporter for National Public Radio. During that time, he has reported on U.S. news events such as Hurricane Katrina, the showdown at Waco, and the death penalty, particularly in Texas, his home state. Internationally, Burnett has been in a great many hotspots - Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Guatemala, and Pakistan, to name only a few. The “uncivilized beasts and shameless hellions” in the title refers to a sign he saw in Pakistan during the autumn of 2001 after the attacks in New York City on September 11.
It is difficult to report on any event in depth in a seven and one-half minute report for NPR radio, though that is a great deal more time than that given on the national television news for any one event. It is clear Burnett loves his work, though he is often horrified by the stories he sent to cover. His behind-the-microphone-and-camera reports are given in concise, hard prose that preserves the humanity of the victims of violence, war and all manner of human atrocity.
Also included are memorable characters: the chaplain in Texas who worked on death row and became an opponent to the death penalty; the musician in Mexico who earned a living using a leaf as his instrument; and the retired matador who so influenced the hearts of a people in a sport that is almost incomprehensible in this culture. Burnett neither turns his eyes away from the horror nor overstates the situation of the victims of war, poverty, homicide by the state, or natural catastrophes.
This is a great read by an insightful reporter who appears to be devoted to telling the story rather than simply tossing out a sound bite or two.