Book review: Kitty Genovese : the Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, by Kevin Cook

Kitty GenoveseCook, Kevin. Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime that Changed America. Norton. 2014. $25.95. 242p. HC 978-0-393-23928-7.

In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York City as she returned home after her job as a bartender. This event led to the creation of protective Good Samaritan laws in many states and research into the “bystander effect,” in which crowds of people watch a violent crime and choose not to help because they believe that someone else will step up to help. Cook maintains, however, that although people failed to help Kitty while she was stabbed, the story is not as simple as it seems. Drawing from eyewitness accounts, court transcripts, interviews, and newspaper articles, the author paints a picture of a neighborhood where most people were likely asleep or assumed that the noise, typical in a growing city where people stay awake throughout the night, was simply the scream of a silly, possibly drunk young couple out too late at night. The book purports that the murder of Genovese, a lesbian, was not a hate crime, but rather a crime of opportunity.

In this compelling true-crime story, Cook provides background for both Kitty and her murderer, leading up to the night the two of them met on the street and Kitty was killed. The aftermath includes Winston Moseley’s trial, conviction, escape, and return to prison. The author also details the sociological results of this event and how a newspaper story led to the common belief that thirty-eight people heard Kitty’s cries for help and chose to ignore her.

Kitty Genovese is a great addition to true crime sections in both public and academic libraries.

Reviewer: Jenni Frencham , Librarian
Cesar Chavez Middle School, Hayward (CA)

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