For whatever reason, the murders in Littleton, Colorado, last April by the teenage killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris loosed a tide of public commentary unmatched in the recent history of such crimes. Just about everyone, it appeared, had something to say about what had happened at Columbine High—from a debate in the New York Times about whether high schools as we know them may be obsolete, to Time magazine’s chart comparing the medication profiles of Klebold and Harris with those of assailants in similar killings, to the Weekly Standard’s poignant article about young Cassie Bernall, who died professing her Christian faith (and whose life story, coincidentally, is just out in book form). And though the quality of what was said varied widely, the level of seriousness was unusually high. The murders in Littleton, almost everyone seemed to agree, meant that something, somehow, had gone terribly wrong out there in the America where children were growing up.
It is a pity that all those commentators could not have availed themselves of Kay Hymowitz’s excellent new book. For in dealing with the way children and adolescents are treated in society today, Ready or Not drives boldly into territory only skirted last spring. This is a book rich in implication not only for the sociology of certain teenage suburban savages but for any understanding of the ideas that will influence the course of almost every American child’s life.