Criminals. Victims. Pursuers of justice. Stories of law-breakers (and law-breaking) have enthralled readers from the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve through modern reports on crimes of passion, politics, and greed. When most of us consider ourselves lawabiding and opposed to violence, why do tales of true crime cast such a strong spell? In this book-club-style course, we’ll consider that question, along with what makes a good factual crime story and how different types of crimes merit different nonfiction approaches.
We’ll begin with Columbine (May 18), journalist Dave Cullen’s acclaimed account of the horrific 1999 mass shooting at a Colorado high school that forever changed the public’s perception of such crimes and its interest in the psyches of the perpetrators.
Next, Strange Piece of Paradise (June 15) by Terri Jentz, which details what happens when the victim of a violent attack returns to the scene of the crime 15 years later to learn the truth about her experience.
We’ll close with Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (July 13), Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prizewinning account of a famed civil rights lawyer and his quest to bring justice to four African American men suffering under the reign of terror of the Ku Klux Klan and an infamously violent Florida sheriff.
Required: Any edition—Dave Cullen, Columbine (Twelve, 2009); Terri Jentz, Strange Piece of Paradise (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (Harper, 2012).
Jack El-Hai is the author of Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines (University of Minnesota Press, 2013); The Nazi and the Psychiatrist (PublicAffairs, 2013); The Lobotomist (Wiley, 2005); and Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). His work has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The Atlantic, Wired, Scientific American Mind, and The History Channel Magazine.