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Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter Hardcover – October 15, 2011

3.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A carefully crafted account of a descent into fatal madness.

(Kirkus Reviews)

Vann’s story, originally commissioned by Esquire magazine and winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, is complicated, but he tells it with grace and clarity. Kazmierczak’s inner life was bleak, to put it mildly. The word 'bleak,' though, has to be qualified. Vann’s look at Kazmierczak is unflinching and careful; he presents exceedingly well-organized research on the shooter, a fleshed-out play-by-play of his life from young adulthood up until the attack, replete with quotes from e-mails, papers, and chat messages that trace his slow descent from a troubled young man with promise into one quietly spiraling out of control.

(Max Winter Boston Globe)

I hated reading Last Day on Earth, but I kept coming back to it. Each chapter was taut, mysterious and compelling. And when I did stop reading―I devoured it in three sittings―I was haunted by Steve, a mass murderer, and his slow, steady transformation from Dean's Award winner to shooter. What makes this book especially appealing is the parallel narrative―the writer living a screwed up childhood, who, like Steve, finds himself in the possession of many guns and the urge to use them and potentially do harm. What the writer discovers is that the line between self destruction and survival and success is frighteningly easy to cross. Last Day on Earth is written with a cold staccato passion―with intensive attention to intimacy of detail. It is riveting reading.

(Lee Gutkind founding editor, Creative Nonfiction)

Transfixing and unflinching . . . full of finely realized moments . . . Comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified.

(Times Literary Supplement, on Caribou Island)

Vann looks into the dark and isolated heart of the American soul.

(San Francisco Chronicle, on Legend of a Suicide)

Takes us someplace darker, older, more powerful than the daylit world.

(New York Times, on Caribou Island)

Vann’s people are hurtling irretrievably toward a dark outcome, and while putting the book down might save you from it, you can’t stop reading, just as you can’t unlearn its truths.

(Los Angeles Times, on Caribou Island)

Last Day on Earth is an intriguing read not only because it attempts to show some insight into a shooter’s mind, but also because the author, David Vann, looks to his own childhood as a parallel experience. . . . Foregoing the fear-mongering and sensationalizing of most media outlets, Vann really does paint a sympathetic portrait of this shooter.

(Rucha Tatke Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews)

About the Author

David Vann is the internationally bestselling author of "Caribou Island," "A Mile Down," and "Legend of a Suicide," published in seventeen languages and winner of ten prizes, including France's Prix Medicis for best foreign novel, selected for the "New Yorker" Book Club, "The Times" Book Club, BBC's Book at Bedtime, TV book shows in eight countries, and more than forty "best books of the year" lists worldwide. Currently a Guggenheim Fellow, Vann has also been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and a Wallace Stegner Fellow. He's taught at Stanford, Cornell, and Florida State University and is currently an associate professor at the University of San Francisco.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (October 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820338397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820338392
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
I've been waiting for this book for a long time. I was at NIU during this absolutely devastating situation and saw things that will haunt me until the day I die, and the worst part about it was that we never knew why. The Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings had documented materials with the ridiculous reasoning as to why the shooters committed those heinous crimes but we had nothing, not that it would have made it any better but the fact that he didn't go to this school anymore, traveled 3 hours and hid out at a crappy hotel for two days just kept coming back to why? Why? Why? Why? So I read the original Esquire article and while it started to paint the picture of this person having a serious mental illness background as weird as it may sound getting those little pieces of the puzzle and those answers started my process with closure. I thank David Vann for writing this book. It was hard to read, especially seeing a few names that are friends of mine in that book that no one had been really aware of. And I hope that those closest to him that are still holding on to information that they have yet to disclose to the police or to the public come clean. This man had no regard for life with what he did, and although you may have cared for him, and thought he wasn't this person the bottom line is he was. There is no reason to protect him when he caused thousands to suffer.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was published because, like Vann's much-lauded Legend of a Suicide: Stories (P.S.), it won a prize, which means that unless some other publishing house picks it up, the current print run is it - this book will disappear. Folks, tell your friends and neighbors to pick up a copy, read it, and shout to the heavens their thoughts about this book, because it matters. It's important. It should be available to read for years and years.

If you've ever had something bad happen to you very suddenly - even something relatively small in comparison to a school shooting, like being mugged, or being in a car accident, or being struck in the face by someone you love - then you know that feeling, and you know those questions: "what just happened to me?" "why did this happen to me?" "who did this to me?" "why would you do this to me?" "what is it about me?" "why me?" "why you?"

No book can ever answer these questions, really, but David Vann gives it a good solid shot. The ferocity of his writing is matched only by deep, but not blind, compassion for all involved.

It's the easiest thing in the world, to look at Kazmierczak as the bad guy, as Someone Who Is Not Like You and Me. It makes us feel safe to think that way. Yet Vann, who is such a courageous writer, crafts the parallel storyline of his own life, and the unasked questions are, "why him and not me?" "What is the difference between us?" Differences are crucial, but sometimes still so small. A right turn here, a left there, and in exploring Kazmierczak maybe we come grieve him as much as we curse him.

Vann originally worked on this topic in a long article written for Esquire magazine. When the article was finished, Vann's curiousity remained unabated. Despite the success of the Esquire piece, he could not find a publisher. He wrote the book anyway, and I am so glad he did.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If I feel the need to compose a brutally honest review, I prefer to start with the good, wherever possible. To that end, I rarely broke stride while reading David Vann's "Last Day On Earth". It was genuinely captivating, and Vann's rather unique - if presumptuous - approach to the narrative made the life and death of Steven Kazmierczak feel very personal to me. I think this is an achievement worth noting, given that there are absolutely no images to accompany the interior text - something readers have come to expect and possibly depend upon in this genre, often to their detriment.

That said, this subset of non-fiction (i.e., true crime, and not the lurid, tabloid variety) requires a rigor and a restraint that Vann does not possess, even in tiny amounts. Writing about real events - and more importantly, real people - carries an enormous weight of responsibility. Vann's writing makes it simultaneously clear that he feels more than confident he is up to the task, when in actuality, he is anything but.

This could stem from the fact that this is an Esquire article that grew into a slim book. The narrative required to capture the fleeting interest of a magazine reader lends itself to conjecture, gossip, distortions and sweeping generalizations, all for the sake of keeping the reader from tossing the disposable periodical aside.

Vann was apparently tapped to write the article by Esquire due to the critical success of his (mostly) autobiographical novel on his father's suicide, entitled "Legend Of A Suicide: Stories". (I read this just prior to "Last Day On Earth", and after a short respite, I'll soon read Vann's novel, "Dirt".) This book is described by the publisher as "the most complete portrait we have of any school shooter", which is a distant cry from the truth.
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