In Print

Violence from A-Z

Violence in America: An Encyclopedia
Edited by Ronald Gottesman
Charles Scribners Sons, $375

CONSIDERING how preoccupied we are with violence, it’s astonishing that no one has ever thought to attempt what Ronald Gottesman has accomplished. After a three-year descent into the literal heart of darkness, the USC English professor has published an authoritative encyclopedia titled Violence in America – a three-volume anthology beginning with “abolition” and ending with “Zoot Suit Riot.”
Gottesman conceived the project and edited the work’s 595 entries. He wrote virtually all the blueprints used by the 444 contributors, many of whom he selec-ted from a pool of 4,000 experts.
The result is dazzling or depressing, depending on one’s point of view. Beginning with early encounters between Euro-peans and American Indians and concluding with the shootings at Columbine High School, the set spans more than 400 years of history. Forty-five long essays grapple with broad concepts like criminal justice and riots. There’s even a five-page section on the relationship between violence and humor. Some 150 shorter essays undertake narrower subjects such as the violence of slavery and American methods of execution. Other entries detail such topics as sexual harassment and the costs of violent crime, as well as individuals and incidents that resonate in the national psyche, from Lizzie Borden to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.

GOTTESMAN first became interested in studying violence as a graduate student, writing his master’s thesis on violence, terror and death in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The idea for the encyclopedia grew out of a 1995 graduate seminar at USC called “American Media and Discourses of Violence.”
“I realized that, while there were myriad books dealing with violence, they were limited to novels, coffee-table books on famous murderers and specialized academic works,” he says. “There was no solid reference source spanning all the facets of violence.”
Gottesman came away from the experience believing that Americans may be a freedom-loving people, but they are just as much a violence-loving people. “The whole project was an attempt to intervene,” he says. “I thought maybe I could make a difference in the long and multifaceted history of violence in America.”

In Love With Night: The American Romance with Robert Kennedy
by Ronald Steel

Simon & Schuster, $23

In this study of personality and politics, international relations professor Ronald Steel explores the “Bobby Myth,” which decrees that RFK would have quickly ended the Vietnam War, violence in the cities, and racial and social injustice across the land. He draws on a striking interpretation of Kennedy’s character, examines the life against the legend and concludes that we mourn not so much “what might have been,” but our own hopes for political deliverance.

Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey
by Jane Goodall, with Phillip Berman
Warner Books, $26.95

The world-famous primatologist and USC adjunct professor calls this memoir “the journey of one human being through 65 years of Earth time.” Jane Goodall went to Africa in her early 20s, recruited by the paleontologist Louis Leakey to observe chimpanzees. Her groundbreaking fieldwork in Gombé earned her the nickname “the Einstein of behavioral science.” Reason for Hope explains why Goodall has not lost faith despite her familiarity with environmental destruction, animal abuse and human depredation.

Air & Ground / LAGQ
CD by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
Sony Classics, $16.97

Astounding technique and worthy compositions are trademarks of this ensemble of USC-trained faculty guitarists. Air & Ground features original compositions by LAGQ members Scott Tennant, Andrew York and William Kanengiser, along with USC composer Morten Lauridsen’s popular chanson “Dirait-On” arranged for guitars. The LAGQ lives up to its reputation on this CD, which showcases intricate percussive effects on the instrument’s body in Carlos Rafael Rivera’s “Cumba-Quin” and the use of “bowed” guitar in Benjamin Verdery’s “Ellis Island.”


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Photograph by Rick Szczechowski

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