Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case

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9780520215276: Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case

In a decade scarred by some of the worst tragedies in this country's history, March 13, 1964, stands apart from the other atrocities, not because of the identity of the victim—whose name was not Kennedy, King, or Malcolm—but because of the circumstances. Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old middle-class woman from Kew Gardens, Queens, whose murder was distinguished by the presence of thirty-eight witnesses who did nothing to stop the series of attacks that would claim her life.

Thirty years later the Kitty Genovese murder still presses us to ask a litany of questions: Why did these people fail to act? What does it say about the conditions of contemporary urban life? Would it happen today? First published over thirty years ago, Thirty-Eight Witnesses remains a social document that warrants close and repeated examination. The account of the story, as related by one of the best-known and most controversial newspaper professionals in the country, has the added dimension of being part memoir, part investigative journalism, and part public service. In an updated preface that incorporates the most recent developments in the case, A.M. Rosenthal examines why the murder of Kitty Genovese still has the power to shock in a world jaded by news of urban violence.

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Review:

Thirty-five years after its first printing, Thirty-Eight Witnesses remains a starkly terrifying morality play, shocking the reader with the now-infamous tale of Catherine ("Kitty") Genovese, murdered on her Queens, New York, doorstep in full view of acquaintances, neighbors, and friends--all of whom did nothing, even though the woman was stabbed repeatedly and stalked by her killer for more than an hour. The book's republication adds a haunted echo to its story, reminding the reader that things have changed since 1964, and not at all for the better. The furor and anger toward the silent witnesses after Genovese's death, as Rosenthal documents it, seems almost quaint by today's standards. But if society has lost its ability to feel horror and shame, perhaps it's time to let someone like Rosenthal speak calmly and quietly to our potential to reignite the outrage: "Every man must fear the witness in himself who whispers to close the window," he concludes. The prose of Thirty-Eight Witnesses--a slim, concise volume that includes only the scarcest hint of extraneous detail about Genovese's life--is calm and steady, with a thoroughness and lack of emotion belying the anger Rosenthal must have felt while he was typing, the shuddering fear of what the world had become... and possibly the nagging suspicion that it had always been this way. --Tjames Madison

From the Inside Flap:

"This is a most important book by perhaps the most important newspaper editor of the last half-century. The New York Times could not have been the important paper it is had Rosenthal not been its best reporter and editor, unparalleled in judgment, integrity, and an awareness of the future in the media."—Gay Talese, author of The Kingdom and the Power

"A.M. Rosenthal's Thirty-Eight Witnesses is a memorable book, and one that needs to be available to those of us who teach social ethics and moral philosophy, not to mention anyone who struggles to figure out how to live an honorable life within one or another community or neighborhood."—Robert Coles, author of The Moral Life of Children

"Having returned home from overseas only a short few months before the Kitty Genovese murder, Abe Rosenthal had fresh eyes for what was happening in America. He told a stunning, tragic story and called each one of us to account for averting our eyes—and hearts—and voices."—Mike Wallace, CBS TV "60 Minutes"

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