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Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America

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by Kevin Cook

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A new perspective on the murder that has captured America’s imagination for over a half-century—“gripping” (New York Times Book Review).

New York City, 1964. A young woman is stabbed to death on her front stoop—a murder the New York Times called “a frozen moment of dramatic, disturbing social change.”


A new perspective on the murder that has captured America’s imagination for over a half-century—“gripping” (New York Times Book Review).

New York City, 1964. A young woman is stabbed to death on her front stoop—a murder the New York Times called “a frozen moment of dramatic, disturbing social change.” The victim, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, became an urban martyr, butchered by a sociopathic killer in plain sight of thirty-eight neighbors who “didn’t want to get involved.” Her sensational case provoked an anxious outcry and launched a sociological theory known as the “Bystander Effect.”

That’s the narrative told by the Times, movies, TV programs, and countless psychology textbooks. But as award-winning author Kevin Cook reveals, the Genovese story is just that, a story. The truth is far more compelling—and so is the victim.

Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of her murder, Cook presents the real Kitty Genovese. She was a vibrant young woman—unbeknownst to most, a lesbian—a bartender working (and dancing) her way through the colorful, fast-changing New York of the ’60s, a cultural kaleidoscope marred by the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War, and race riots. Downtown, Greenwich Village teemed with beatniks, folkies, and so-called misfits like Kitty and her lover. Kitty Genovese evokes the Village’s gay and lesbian underground with deep feeling and colorful detail.

Cook also reconstructs the crime itself, tracing the movements of Genovese’s killer, Winston Moseley, whose disturbing trial testimony made him a terrifying figure to police and citizens alike, especially after his escape from Attica State Prison.

Drawing on a trove of long-lost documents, plus new interviews with her lover and other key figures, Cook explores the enduring legacy of the case. His heartbreaking account of what really happened on the night Genovese died is the most accurate and chilling to date.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Most people would cite the story of Kitty Genovese (a young woman who was fatally stabbed in 1964 in Kew Gardens, NY) as the most infamous example of the bystander effect, or the psychological phenomenon that explains that individuals are less likely to offer help to those in need when they perceive others to be present. However, on the 50th anniversary of the murder, Cook (Titanic Thompson; Tommy's Honor) reconsiders the case, concluding that erroneous reporting by the New York Times led to the accepted belief that 38 of Genovese's neighbors heard her cries and refused to respond, when in fact the truth was much more complex. The author successfully infuses new life into a case that many know primarily as a brief chapter from introductory psychology textbooks, fleshing out Genovese and relying upon historical details and heavy use of dialog to add further color. Though this is a well-researched account of a crime, more important, it's a nuanced examination of the cultural significance of Genovese's slaying and its legacy. VERDICT True crime aficionados, sociology and psychology students, and anyone with an interest in untold stories will enjoy Cook's thought-provoking revelations.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
In his latest book, Cook (Titanic Thompson) disproves the popular belief about the 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in Kew Gardens, Queens—that 38 neighbors watched her being stabbed to death from the safety of their apartment windows, and did nothing to help, a phenomenon dubbed the “Bystander Effect” by social scientists. One neighbor did call the police immediately, but the notion that so many failed to respond struck a nerve, bolstered by the New York Times’ coverage, and Times editor A.M. Rosenthal’s book Thirty-Eight Witnesses. The ensuing clamor led to the creation of the 911 emergency phone system, “Good Samaritan” laws, and the development of the field of pro-social behavior—designed to turn bad neighbors into good ones. Cook never loses sight of the victim, tracing the arc of Genovese’s 27 years of life, and presenting the memories of her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko. Cook also offers a nuanced rendering of Genovese’s murderer, Winston Moseley, with ample details of his trial. In an especially moving section, Cook notes the chance elements that put Genovese in harm’s way. As much social history as true crime, this is an insightful probe into the notorious case, 50 years later. 16 pages of photos. (Mar.)
Curtis Sliwa
“At the time of the killing my Uncle Sammy told me, ‘It could only happen in Queens, where they’re soft.’ He couldn’t have been more hopelessly wrong. The murder of Kitty Genovese paralyzed the city. Now, finally, Kevin Cook’s book connects all the dots, giving us answers instead of myths and half-truths. This is a must-read.”
Kevin Baker
“Kevin Cook rips the cover off an enduring urban myth. He’s done a first-rate reporting job, one that delivers the truth at last about an infamous murder that came to define an age.”
Harlan Ellison
“This is not a good book. This is a GREAT book. I don't think I've read its compelling equal in twenty years. Every page reveals astonishing new facts about one of the most paralyzing events in the flawed soul of the American character. This is modern history at its storytelling best, ignored at the reader's peril.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Kevin Cook is raising big questions.”
Michael Washburn - Boston Sunday Globe
“A fully-realized portrait of Kitty… Readers won’t forget that she was a person, not a player in an anecdote.”
Jordan Michael Smith - Christian Science Monitor
The New Yorker
“Cook is [an] adept storyteller. His peppy knowing style calls to mind pop-culture products from the time of the murder…he is firmly and persuasively in the revisionist camp.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Cook manages to maintain an impressive level of tension…moving…compelling.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Cook’s restoration helps make Kitty human, not merely iconographic.”
“Cook debunks the whole parable of the 38 Bad Samaritans and puts forth the real story of what happened.”
Tampa Bay Times
“Smart…suspenseful. [Cook’s] reporting…is rich and deep.”
Amy Finnerty - New York Times
Edward Kosner - The Wall Street Journal
“Provocative… As much about the alchemy of journalism as urban pathology.”
The Times (London)
“Well written and often gripping.”
“A grim and fascinating history and discussion of the "bystander effect"…this book asks hard questions of human nature.”
The Sunday Herald (UK)
“Cook’s take on events is intelligent, superbly researched and truly unsettling, making this one of the best true crime books I’ve read in the last few years.”
New York Post
“An ever important reminder that we never know as much about a story as we think.”
Kirkus Reviews
The infamous myth-shrouded murder of Kitty Genovese (1935–1964) receives a much-needed re-evaluation. The brutal, senseless murder of Kew Gardens resident Genovese went down in history as what magazine journalist and Cook (Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything, 2010, etc.) calls a "crime that lasted forever." It lasted "forever" both in the sense that Genovese's death was slow and painful from multiple stab wounds and in the psychological repercussions of the case, which would reverberate throughout academic and popular-culture circles for decades to come. The controversy that became front-page news and began to overshadow both victim and killer over the years was how 38 bystanders could have witnessed psychopath Winston Moseley stab young Genovese to death and not intervene in any way, thereby leaving her to die alone only a short walking distance from her apartment. Cook's main agenda is myth-busting while also exploring the ways in which society has collectively learned lessons from those same myths about the 38 passive bystanders. But as we find out through Cook's prolonged analysis of the case, Genovese's murder was not quite the lonely death it was made out to be. Nevertheless, the author cites instances of how both criminals and victims of crimes learned from these long-perpetuated "bystander" untruths, as he eventually arrives at some well-founded conclusions on this controversial subject. Cook's breathless pacing and painstaking research manage to make his minibio of Genovese sound more interesting that it should: He frames her own fairly quotidian existence (other than her attraction to women, which was definitely not quotidian in 1964) in the bigger picture of the important social changes that were taking place in New York City and in America as a whole in the early 1960s. The author's game-changing contribution to the Genovese case pushes past mere sensationalism into previously unexplored territory. An engrossing true-crime tour de force.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

A former senior editor at Sports Illustrated, Kevin Cook is the author of Titanic Thompson, Tommy's Honor, Kitty Genovese and The Dad Report. He lives in New York City.

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Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. i could not have put this book down. shocking that people did not help this woman, sad that it still continues in our time
JEN-E-- More than 1 year ago
Kevin Cook is a Hero of True Crime!   Author Kevin Cook is Kitty Genoveses' Hero!  I never heard this rape/murder case until I saw A Crime to Remember, my favorite true crime documentary on my favorite televsion channel, Investigation Discovery (Comcast Ch 221 and 893). Her enduring murder is unique in that 38 witnessed a black man attacking her (at some smaller moments of the attack).  These notorious bystander effect witnesses watched her die--litterally.  I expected author Kevin Cook to explain why her neighbors did as they did on March 13, 1964 starting at 3:19 A.M.--better yet, Kevin Cook re-tells the crime, de-bunking the myth of those enduring group of individuals that were labeled as criminals themselves first by Abraham Rosenthal.  Sophie Farrar wano bystander, she rolled over andt back to sleep at the first screams Catherine Genovese makes, but is also the old woman who cradles Kitty in rms during the last moments of Kitty's life.  Cook's readers learns learn of 2 911 phone calls, but Cook also informs his readers that there existed only 2 otheople (Karl Ross and Joseph Fink, I hate you both) that saw the crime in ientirety.  Charge that drunk and ex-conn alonside murderer Winston Mosely why didn't they?  Rort Mozer interrupts the crime when he yells, "Leave that girl alone!" That's as good as hurtling an object out of the window 110 ft away.  Reader's got locked into the 38 witnesses deterred that ability to learn the truth by misinforming the public of the existence of two crime scenes--nonetheless, we are given the idea that she fell whersas slain--bringing the total amount time of the crime to 33 minutes and she still did not die in that time frame.  One paragraphs, two paragraphs and counting thanks to The New York Times:  all that catapults author Kevin Cook as the first writer to publish the most detailed, accurate, and unbiased account TO DATE.  This is 2014.  Why did that take so long?  Why are rape victims only a mere thought and not a name?  Finall, awiter that can avert his readers inquisitive eyes to the subject matter on hand.  This is a must read for all current day apartment dwellers since they are those whose lives remain unchanged since those of 1964.  This is unheard of for any decade of the century since, but author Kevin Cook states the practicality of the matter--this has occurred thousands of times since.  I needed the history lesson for Brooklyn, NY, it gave me an idea OF HOW PEOPLE THOUGHT AT THE TIME. Not to glorify her monster Winston Moseley, but an annotated shortfall of prison life   would sit a little better for Cook's readers.
Pieprbarb More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book. It is an excellent telling of the life and death of Kitty Genovese. I learned a lot that I did not know about the case. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes true crime and its impact on society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The 1st 6-8 chapters was a nauseating history lesson on Brooklyn, so history buffs will be very pleased! Once you get past the history lesson the book actually evolves into a good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago