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Murder, madness and gun nuts: A Newtown reading guide

Rain soaks parts of a memorial to the Newtown shooting victims in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.

Seth Wenig/AP

Last week's massacre of young schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., defies understanding. But these books may help you make sense of irrational horror.


We Need to Talk about Kevin
By Lionel Shriver (2003)

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This novel about a fictional school massacre is written from the perspective of the killer's mother, Eva, and follows her efforts to understand her murderous son's atrocity. The powerful epistolary novel, which won the 2005 Orange Prize, was made into a film, with Tilda Swinton as Eva, in 2011.

Hey Nostradamus
By Douglas Coupland (2003)

Coupland's novel homes in on a fictional school shooting in suburban Vancouver in 1988. Coupland was concerned that the Columbine killers were paid more attention than their victims. His novel is told from the point of view of four characters, each directly or indirectly a victim of the shooting.

Give a Boy a Gun
By Todd Strasser (2000)

In this young adult novel, two heavily armed students, Gary and Brendan, take a high school dance hostage, seeking revenge agains the jocks and teachers who have bullied them.

By Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman (1977)

Charlie Decker, a Maine high school student, takes a classroom hostage after shooting and killing his algebra teacher. This book has been cited as an influence in several school shootings, including at Columbine, and King has taken it out of print.

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The Life Before Her Eyes
By Laura Kasischke (2002)

Diana is spared during a Columbine-style high school shooting, but her best friend is killed. Twenty years later, Diana's mind returns to her 17-year-old self – her first forays into sex, the ups and downs of her adolescent life, and, of course, the horror of the shootings. Made into a 2007 film starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood.

Nineteen Minutes
By Jodi Picoult (2007)

Picoult's plots are very much up-to-the-minute, and this one is set more or less on the day the book was published. The novel moves backward and forward in time, through many characters and through the act and aftermath of a New Hampshire school shooting that kills 10 people.

Hate List
By Jennifer Brown (2009)

Five months before, Valerie's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate. But she was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped draw up, of people and things she and Nick hated, the list he used to pick his targets.

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By Dave Cullen (2009)

On April 20, 1999, two students from Columbine High School left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. In a riveting piece of journalism nearly 10 years in the making, Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology, laying bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold. The first complete account of the Columbine tragedy.

School Shootings
International Research, Case Studies, and Concepts for Prevention, edited by N. Böckler et al. (2013)

The research in this forthcoming book examines a range of current theories and case studies (including a female shooter and a sword attack), and offers strategies for prevention. Contributors look at, among other things, how media drives public thinking about shooters and victims; the nuances of insiders versus outsider, including the effect of social media; and the role of fantasy in school shootings.

Deadly Lessons
Understanding Lethal School Violence, from the National Research Council Institute of Medicine (2002)

The Columbine shooting prompted a wide-ranging investigation of school violence in the 1980s and 90s. This book collects the National Research Council's findings and can be downloaded for free.

The Columbine School Shooting
By Louise I. Gerdes (2012)

From Greenhaven Press's Perspectives on Modern World History, this young-adult book attempts to explain the Columbine shootings' causes and aftermath to younger readers.

Out of Eden
Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil, by Paul W Kahn (2007)

Philosopher Paul Kahn claims that secularity has made reason so dominant we can only understand evil acts as forms of irrationality or insanity. But, he argues, that makes us incapable of distinguishing between simply bad acts and evil ones.

The Social Roots of School Shootings, by Katherine S. Newman (2005)

School shootings can occur even in affluent areas. They appear to be spontaneous acts by alienated loners. Rampage challenges the disaffected-loner theory and examines why we so often miss the warning signs.

Ceremonial Violence
A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings by Jonathan Fast (2008)

Using research into five shooting incidents, Fast describes the forces that drive young people to violence.

Blown Away
American Women and Guns, by Caitlin Kelly (2004)

Kelly's examination of the relationship between American women and the country's gun culture might help us comprehend Nancy Lanza's obsession with firearms, and perhaps contribute to an understanding of her son's slaughter of 26 people.

Gun Show Nation
Gun Culture and American Democracy, by Joan Burbick (2007)

Burbick waded into gun culture at trade shows, interviewing both exhibitors and enthusiasts. What emerges is a portrait of people for whom the Second Amendment might as well be the entire U.S. Constitution, so dominated are their views by the culture of weaponry.

The Psychopath Next Door
By Martha Stout (2006)

Not all sociopaths are violent criminals, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout says. In fact one in every 25 people may be conscienceless, capable of doing anything with no guilt or remorse, but often possessed of intelligence, charm and the ability to counterfeit emotion. Stout offers advice on recognizing psychopaths and dealing with our sociopathic neighbours and bosses by, among other gambits, questioning authority and resisting flattery.

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