Likable and frequently moving.

THE CLASSMATES

PRIVILEGE, CHAOS, AND THE END OF AN ERA

Sparked by a flurry of e-mails among former classmates during John Kerry’s run for president, Douglas (The Game of Their Lives, 1996, etc.) explores what happened to St. Paul’s class of 1962.

In the spring of 2004, the author watched in amazement as his inbox slowly filled with names he hadn’t contemplated in more than 40 years. They had all attended St. Paul’s and were fascinated by the presidential bid of fellow alum Kerry, who hadn’t been well liked at the elite boarding school in Concord, N.H., but earned their admiration during the run-up to the election. Douglas fondly recalls the frantic e-mail exchanges that eventually prompted him to meet with a few of his former classmates, including Kerry. He discovered that St. Paul’s alumni had endured a broad range of experiences since graduating, and he eloquently chronicles those experiences. The narrative frequently returns to Arthur, a class clown mercilessly ridiculed at school who suddenly died while the e-mail reunion was in full swing. The outpouring of grief following his death makes for one of the most touching moments in a book saturated with the emotions unleashed by a group of middle-aged men’s miraculous reconnection. Douglas describes meetings between himself and several other graduates, including Chad Floyd, a successful architect and Vietnam vet whose wife was crippled by depression, and Philip Heckscher, a Harlem high-school teacher who took a long time coming to terms with his homosexuality. Surprisingly, the passages about Kerry are among the book’s least interesting. The author admits that their interview was perfunctory, full of rote answers that the senator from Massachusetts has trotted out on numerous other occasions. But it matters little, because the reunion he inadvertently sparked opens a gateway for Douglas to muse on such larger concepts as identity, loss, expectation, failure and idealism.

Likable and frequently moving.

Pub Date: June 3, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4013-0196-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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