Friday, July 06, 2012


by Dave Cullen

For those who are grieving, as I have been this year, a lot of questions come to mind, such as: Why? What’s the point? What now? Dave Cullen’s journalistic account of the shooting at Columbine High School, its causes and its aftermath, tries to answer many of the questions surrounding the event. As with any trauma, people tend not to leave their questions open - the media, the community, and the survivors of the Columbine shooting came up with answers within hours, days, and weeks. Many of these answers proved to be unfounded - the shooters were not bullied, or loners, or goths, or gay. They weren’t inspired by video games or violent movies. Stories of some victims’ heroic martyrdom were created out of thin air, while more accurate stories were ignored. And even the official investigation was clouded in secrecy. Cullen spent ten years researching the event, and comes out with a clearer picture. Like anything true, the story of Columbine is complex and multilayered. The lessons we can learn from the attack are not necessarily the lessons we were hoping to learn. But the humanity of all involved - even the killers - comes through. This is, after all, primarily a high school, and the students at Columbine feel strongly that the continuing life of the school should mean more than the terrible events of that day in 1999.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


by Kim Stanley Robinson

With 2312, Robinson seems comfortably at the top of his game. This is clearly the same storyteller who brought us the Red Mars series, but he’s aged - he’s willing now to gloss over some of the details and let his mind take him where it will. Which is generally a good thing - we get a whirlwind tour of our own Solar System, a system chock full of humans, and therefore full of art, culture, sex, violence, and engineering. Robinson’s love of the natural world(s) is in evidence in every chapter, but instead of the long passages on Martian geology, we get lists, extracts, found poetry, and jaunty hikes. Still, those with short attention spans may never appreciate Robinson’s style: though we encounter murder mysteries, terrorism and catastrophe, this novel is more concerned with wonder than suspense. We follow the long, unfolding evolution of the human race - and its individuals - as only Robinson can deliver it. And, at its heart, this is a romance, both literally and metaphorically.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Psychopath Test

by Jon Ronson

As you might be able to tell from the style of the cover, The Psychopath Test is not a clinical diagnostic tool. It's more of a light-hearted tour of the dark world of psychopaths and what Ronson calls "the madness industry," those who diagnose, treat, and work with psychopaths. Ronson's style is a bit madcap and scattered, which could be off-putting to some, but I found myself unable to put the book down. His investigations take him from topic to topic, pouncing on mysteries as they arise, and then diving into the deep background as needed. Ronson sits down with several psychopaths, including a man who claims to have faked his way into a mental institution and was then unable to convince anyone he was sane.

After meeting with Robert Hare, who literally wrote the book on Psychopathy, Ronson learns the famous checklist and starts to feel that he can identify psychopaths after briefly talking with them. But is such a diagnosis possible? Are psychopaths a different breed, or is psychopathy a spectrum? Can a psychopath ever be cured, or does the diagnosis doom you to be locked away for life?

The more I read, the more it seemed that Ronson was the perfect tour guide into a world bordering on absurdity. His combination of thoughtful investigation and playful reflection made for a fun and eye-opening ride.

My Top 11 Favorite Books Read in 2011

Better late than never... 

  • Doc - Russell
  • Among Others - Walton
  • Graceling - Cashore
  • Caleb’s Crossing - Brooks
  • Habibi - Thompson
  • The Clockwork Rocket - Egan
  • Skippy Dies - Murray


  • The Warmth of Other Suns - Wilkerson
  • Rock the Casbah - Wright
  • Half the Sky - WuDunn, Kristoff
  • Feynman - Ottaviani, Myrick