A dispiriting history of transgenerational violence and its victims, by a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist. The Bosket family has lived in the US for as long as there has been an American nation, first as slaves in a quiet corner of South Carolina, now as prisoners of a New York slum. New York Times writer Butterfield (China: Alive in the Bitter Sea, 1982) met one of the family, Willie James Bosketconsidered to be the most violent criminal in New York state history and dubbed ``Hannibal Lecter'' by his guards-while reporting on New York prisons. Struck by Bosket's quick intelligence and finely wrought stories of the world behind bars, Butterfield set out to study the patterns of life that brought him there. What he found, he tells us, is that ``violence is not, as many people today presume, a recent problem or a particularly urban bane. . . . Rather, it grew out of a proud culture that flourished in the antebellum rural South, a tradition shaped by whites long before it was adopted and recast by some blacks in reaction to their plight.'' In Bosket's case, as in that of his father, and his father before him, vicious crime, jail, and violent death served as a coat of arms, with the pattern repeated generation after generation, and with seemingly no way out of the cycle. Butterfield pays too little attention to the environmental causes of violence, but his book lends considerable credence to what historians and sociologists have long suspected: that the long legacy of violence in America is an integral part of our culture, and nothing seems capable of dismantling it. This book, scary and profound, is one of the most urgent of the season, and it demands much discussion.