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Thirty-Eight Witnesses

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City, a crime that has haunted the American imagination ever since, not so much for the murder itself, horrific though it was, but for the seeming apathy of the victim’s neighbors, who heard Genovese’s cries for help but “didn’t want to get involved.”

Kevin Cook’s new book, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America, reexamines the murder and how news coverage provided an unflattering portrait of Americans as isolated and uncaring. When A. M. Rosenthal, at that time the metropolitan editor of The New York Times, learned of the Genovese case, he assigned a reporter to cover the story and ran the resulting piece on the front page. The story “went viral,” as Nicolas Lemann recently wrote in The New Yorker, and social commentators struggled to make sense of what had happened. Later in 1964, Rosenthal rushed a book into print, Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case, that capitalized on the feelings of outrage over the apparent behavior of the witnesses.

Cook presents a more nuanced account of the crime, pointing out that there were fewer actual direct witnesses and that some of them actually did attempt to contact the police. Still, the Genovese case had an undeniable impact on American society: it helped in the drive to establish the national 911 service for reporting emergencies, and it gave rise to psychological studies of the so-called “bystander effect” (the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely they are to offer help, and vice versa).

Read Kevin Cook’s book to learn more about this chilling case and its cultural impact, and check out the other titles listed below that examine the social alienation of modern life that the Genovese murder exposed.


Amazon Says: At last, the true story of a crime that shocked the world. New York City, 1964. A young woman is stabbed to death on her front stoop―a murder the New York Times called “a more...
Amazon Says: At last, the true story of a crime that shocked the world. New York City, 1964. A young woman is stabbed to death on her front stoop―a murder the New York Times called “a frozen moment of dramatic, disturbing social change.” The victim, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, became an urban martyr, butchered by a sociopathic killer in plain sight of thirty-eight neighbors who “didn’t want to get involved.” Her sensational case provoked an anxious outcry and launched a sociological theory known as the “Bystander Effect.” That’s the narrative told by the Times, movies, TV programs, and countless psychology textbooks. But as award-winning author Kevin Cook reveals, the Genovese story is just that, a story. The truth is far more compelling―and so is the victim.Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of her murder, Cook presents the real Kitty Genovese. She was a vibrant young woman―unbeknownst to most, a lesbian―a bartender working (and dancing) her way through the colorful, fast-changing New York of the ’60s, a cultural kaleidoscope marred by the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War, and race riots. Downtown, Greenwich Village teemed with beatniks, folkies, and so-called misfits like Kitty and her lover. Kitty Genovese evokes the Village’s gay and lesbian underground with deep feeling and colorful detail.Cook also reconstructs the crime itself, tracing the movements of Genovese’s killer, Winston Moseley, whose disturbing trial testimony made him a terrifying figure to police and citizens alike, especially after his escape from Attica State Prison.Drawing on a trove of long-lost documents, plus new interviews with her lover and other key figures, Cook explores the enduring legacy of the case. His heartbreaking account of what really happened on the night Genovese died is the most accurate and chilling to date. 16 pages of photographs less...
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Amazon Says: A fascinating study of Edward Hopper's iconic Nighthawks painting and its deep significance for understanding American culture. Staying up Much Too Late discusses the paintin more...
Amazon Says: A fascinating study of Edward Hopper's iconic Nighthawks painting and its deep significance for understanding American culture. Staying up Much Too Late discusses the painting Nighthawks and the painter Edward Hopper and their central importance to twentieth-century American culture. Topics include individualism, New York City, Arthur "Weegee" Fellig, diners, pornography, capitalism, advertising, cigarettes, American philosophy, World War II, Gravity's Rainbow, Blade Runner, Pulp Fiction, Russ Meyer, R. Crumb, David Lynch, and film noir What links these together is the painting's pessimistic take on American culture, which it also seems to epitomize. Despite its desolate feel, Nighthawks has become a familiar icon, reproduced on posters and postcards, in movies and on television shows. But Nighthawks is more than just a masterful painting. It is a portal into that rarely acknowledged but pervasive dark side of the American psyche. less...
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Amazon Says: In his acclaimed bestselling book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam described a thirty-year decline in America's social institutio more...
Amazon Says: In his acclaimed bestselling book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam described a thirty-year decline in America's social institutions. The book ended with the hope that new forms of social connection might be invented in order to revive our communities. In Better Together, Putnam and longtime civic activist Lewis Feldstein describe some of the diverse locations and most compelling ways in which civic renewal is taking place today. In response to civic crises and local problems, they say, hardworking, committed people are reweaving the social fabric all across America, often in innovative ways that may turn out to be appropriate for the twenty-first century. Better Together is a book of stories about people who are building communities to solve specific problems. The examples Putnam and Feldstein describe span the country from big cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago to the Los Angeles suburbs, small Mississippi and Wisconsin towns, and quiet rural areas. The projects range from the strictly local to that of the men and women of UPS, who cover the nation. Bowling Alone looked at America from a broad and general perspective. Better Together takes us into Catherine Flannery's Roxbury, Massachusetts, living room, a UPS loading dock in Greensboro, North Carolina, a Philadelphia classroom, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, naval shipyard, and a Bay Area Web site. We meet activists driven by their visions, each of whom has chosen to succeed by building community: Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande Valley who want paved roads, running water, and decent schools; Harvard University clerical workers searching for respect and improved working conditions; Waupun, Wisconsin, schoolchildren organizing to improve safety at a local railroad crossing; and merchants in Tupelo, Mississippi, joining with farmers to improve their economic status. As the stories in Better Together demonstrate, bringing people together by building on personal relationships remains one of the most effective strategies to enhance America's social health. less...
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Amazon Says: Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work; but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified and desc more...
Amazon Says: Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work; but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified and describes in this brilliant volume, "Bowling Alone." Drawing on vast new data from the Roper Social and Political Trends and the DDB Needham Life Style -- surveys that report in detail on Americans' changing behavior over the past twenty-five years -- Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and social structures, whether the PTA, church, recreation clubs, political parties, or bowling leagues. Our shrinking access to the "social capital" that is the reward of communal activity and community sharing is a serious threat to our civic and personal health. Putnam's groundbreaking work shows how social bonds are the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction. For example, he reports that getting married is the equivalent of quadrupling your income and attending a club meeting regularly is the equivalent of doubling your income. The loss of social capital is felt in critical ways: Communities with less social capital have lower educational performance and more teen pregnancy, child suicide, low birth weight, and prenatal mortality. Social capital is also a strong predictor of crime rates and other measures of neighborhood quality of life, as it is of our health: In quantitative terms, if you both smoke and belong to no groups, it's a close call as to which is the riskier behavior. A hundred years ago, at the turn of the last century, America's stock of social capital was at an ebb, reduced by urbanization, industrialization, and vast immigration thatuprooted Americans from their friends, social institutions, and families, a situation similar to today's. Faced with this challenge, the country righted itself. Within a few decades, a range of organizations was created, from the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, and YWCA to Hadassah and the Knights of Columbus and the Urban League. With these and many more cooperative societies we rebuilt our social capital. We can learn from the experience of those decades, Putnam writes, as we work to rebuild our eroded social capital. It won't happen without the concerted creativity and energy of Americans nationwide. Like defining works from the past that have endured -- such as "The Lonely Crowd" and "The Affluent Society" -- and like C. Wright Mills, Richard Hofstadter, Betty Friedan, David Riesman, Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson, and Theodore Roszak, Putnam has identified a central crisis at the heart of our society and suggests what we can do. less...
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