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Ceremonial Violence: Understanding Columbine and Other School Rampage Shootings Paperback – Bargain Price, August 25, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook TP; Reprint edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590202538
  • ASIN: B005SNLX2I
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this penetrating examination of the nation's school shootings, Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University, explores such psychological theories as identity confusion and childhood abuse. Outlining 13 incidents, Fast concentrates on five between 1979 and the 1999 Columbine shootings. Each shooting is described in unflinching detail, from 16-year-old Brenda Spencer's declaration that her hatred of Mondays led her to kill two adults and wound eight children at a San Diego elementary school, to 16-year-old Luke Woodham's brutal matricide before killing two students and wounding six more at his high school. Avoiding simplistic labels, Fast builds a psychological profile of each teen, weighing upbringing and prior history of violence. His meticulously detailed portrait of Columbine's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold anchors the work, and Fast dissects not only the boys themselves but the culture of Columbine as a school and Littleton, Colo., as a community. Although not a book about solutions, it is not without hope. Fast recognizes the impossibility of predicting school rampage shooters, but outlines clear and realistic goals for educators, community leaders, parents and students that could help prevent these violent attacks. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

After six years of researching school-rampage shootings, Fast, a professor of social work, offers a theory of “ceremonial violence” that examines links between the adolescents who have committed horrific crimes at their schools. He finds school shootings akin to “other kinds of predatory mass murders such as suicide bombings, workplace shootings, and terrorist attacks.” Fast begins with a detailed study of 13 cases, including Columbine. Highlighting the common elements of ceremonial violence, Fast offers the profile of generally smart kids infatuated with guns, suffering from social isolation, with apparently normal families who often hide troubling secrets of abuse and neglect. In separate chapters, Fast offers frightening profiles of the individual killers, including Brenda Spencer, the rare girl involved in ceremonial violence, who killed classmates in San Diego in 1979. Drawing on research, court documents, and accounts by survivors, Fast details the ceremonial aspects of the killings: the adolescents carefully plan every detail down to background music and what they will wear and often keep journals cataloging their grievances. A chilling, insightful look at school shootings. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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With his masterful story telling and his wealth of details, Jonathan Fast made each of these cases fresh.
davi strand
I read Ceremonial Violence when it first came out, in 2008, and then, after the unimaginable horror in Newtown, Ct., picked it up and read it again.
Rachel Ben Avi
I noted first and foremost that Dr. Fast had a fascination with acronyms, perhaps because he thought they made his text sound more authoritative.
Gregory Gibson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Gibson on December 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We don't make a big deal about Christmas around our house. Often, we try to go someplace far away for the holiday, but the excitement of the trip is always tinged with melancholy. December 14th is the anniversary of the 1992 school shooting at Simon's Rock College in which Galen was murdered. I won't speak for the rest of my family, but for me this is an occasion to ponder the astonishing nature of a universe that could take our brave, resilient, beautiful boy and leave us with Wayne Lo, his murderer, who snapped and broke all those years ago. It's a steep meditation.

Wayne writes to me a few times a year, usually with a small check which I deposit in the Galen Gibson Scholarship Trust. He earns the money by selling his artwork, via some guy named Zack, on the internet. This made the news for a moment in the spring of 2007 when a zealous fellow down in Houston coined the term "murderabilia" and decided to crack down on its sale. Murderers, he reasoned, should not profit from their crimes. Media people contacted me about this. I opined that donating money to a scholarship fund was one of the few ways that Wayne Lo, locked in prison for the rest of his life, could try to atone for what he'd done. Society, I told them, has been very efficient about punishment, but backward about reconciliation and rehabilitation. This was not the answer they wanted to hear, so it didn't get much play.

This past November I got a letter from Wayne that said, in part:
"There is a new book out called Ceremonial Violence: a psychological explanation of school shootings by Jonathan Fast. He devotes one chapter (chap. 2) to my crime. I had a friend send me a photocopy of that chapter alone and I discovered that Mr. Fast plagiarizes from Goneboy...
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I found Ceremonial Violence both painful and compelling. It's painful because the stories are so sad, centering on children overwhelmed by despair and a raging anger. It's also gut-wrencing to think about the associated terror and grief. It's compelling because Fast's skill at narrative makes violent chaotic events and some of the complex ideation behind them very real and accessible.

Accessibility is crucial is we ever are to broaden the discussion to include and more than just police and mental health professionals. A renewed discussion incorporating all the stakeholders is exactly what is needed for more effective methods of prevention to bubble up. It's certainly what is needed if the United States is ever going to achieve a rational policy on gun control.

Hats off to Dr. Fast for re-framing the context about school violence in an innovative and interesting way.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By De White on December 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Having read, for example, Goneboy by Gregory Gibson [one of the references given in Ceremonial Violence] one can't but help notice many simularites between how some ideas and conclusions are expressed in Cermemonial Violence in the same words as those expressed in Goneboy. It appears to me that the "investigation" done by Jonathan Fast may have been more in the literature and newspaper files than in any interviews.

Having come to this conclusion, it was no surprise to find the same conclusions on the web. In fact there is an "open letter" from Gregory Gibson on the Parlez Moi Blog reproduced in part below:

"...Fast used several quotes from my book, Gone Boy, all properly attributed. Nonetheless, I got the feeling that he was pilfering my goods. His descriptions of people and situations sounded very like mine. The report of Wayne in prison rocking back and forth on his parents' first visit came to me directly from Wayne's father and was reported only in my book; Fast used it without attribution. Out of all the hundreds of pages of testimony by psychiatrists in Wayne Lo's criminal trial, Fast repeatedly defaulted to the single characterizing sentence or phrase that I had chosen. There were half a dozen other little things, but most damningly, Fast cited and quoted from the firsthand accounts of two students, Jeremy Roberts and Rob Horowitz. Their narratives are accurate enough, but Roberts and Horowitz do not exist. I made those names up to conceal the identities behind them. Fast talked about them as if they were real people. ...

I researched my account of the Simon's Rock shootings from 1992 to 1999, and by the end of my work I probably knew as much as any layman about such events. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is nothing in Dr. Jonathan Fast's book that adds materially to what we knew about school shootings and their causes in 2000. ..."
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Ben Avi on March 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Ceremonial Violence when it first came out, in 2008, and then, after the unimaginable horror in Newtown, Ct., picked it up and read it again. It was even more riveting the second time than the first.
Dr. Fast tells the stories of fifteen school rampage shooters, beginning in 1974, with Anthony Barbaro, and ending in 1999, with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the infamous Columbine mass murder. He begins with a brief summary of each killer's (or killers') lives and then begins all over again with the first, fleshing out each story with all the details he was able to amass. The stories, while written in a non-histrionic style, are hair-raising and grimly fascinating, infuriating and heart-breaking. Anyone who has anything to do with the unpbringing or education of children should read this.
Anyone who cannot imagine what we can do to prevent these events, events that happen again and again, seemingly out of the blue and unpredictably, should read this.
Anyone who buys into the "guns don't kill people; people kill people," hogwash, should read this.
The book povides no single definitive answer as to how to identify a school shooter before he goes on a rampage, but it offers a plethora of clues. It does not solve the problem of how best to stop the rampage once it has begun, but discusses the problem.
I, a clinical psychologist, feel that were I in a school situation with a Dylan Klebold and an Eric Harris lurking, I would-- as a result of reading this book--be more likely to recognize them and to do something about them, before they murdered. School shooters do not keep their intentions secret. They broadcast them. And apparently, most of the time, as Dr. Fast points out, they are on suicide missions. Their intention to commit suicide leaves them free to run amok.
The mere descriptions of these deranged young people, once absorbed, is perhaps enough to save lives.
Ceremonial Violence is not only a "good" read but also an important one.
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