Christmas books: 'Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth'

Reviewed By Father Jim McDermott, SJ
Wednesday, November 30, 2022

This is the fifth year I’ve been recommending books for Christmas in these pages. And more than any prior year, I’m noticing an underlying theme. When I look back on the books that have really spoken to me this year, the ones I can’t stop recommending, they’re all stories about people contending with some experience of, as Richard Powers titled his most recent novel, bewilderment. 

That may not seem like the most natural idea for a stocking stuffer, but it does resonate with where the world is right now. And all three books also offer the kind of faith in the face of uncertainty that is so much at the heart of the Nativity story we celebrate this month. I hope you and yours enjoy them.  

I don’t know which is harder to believe, that it’s already been 10 years since 20 grade-school children and six educators were murdered by a gunman who attacked the school in Newtown, Connecticut, or that so little has improved. In fact, in every way things seem to have gotten worse. There were 273 reported mass shooting deaths the year after Sandy Hook, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This year there have been 615 in the first 11 months, including in May another mass shooting at a grade school, in Uvalde, Texas. Just in the two weeks since I began thinking about this review, five people were killed at Club Q in Colorado Springs and 17 others injured by a gunman, and six others were killed and four injured by a gunman at a Chesapeake, Virginia, Walmart.

In “Sandy Hook,” Elizabeth Williamson writes, “This book is not a treatise on gun control.” The work focuses on the horrifying campaigns of lies that Alex Jones and others put the Sandy Hook families through during the last 10 years. But in reporting the stories of these families — Williamson did hundreds of interviews with family members and others — “Sandy Hook” nonetheless puts a human face on the suffering that gun violence has wrought upon our country.  Williamson’s desire not to use the stories of the victims and their families to make an argument about guns is in fact a great strength of the book, allowing their individual stories and experiences to speak for themselves. Whatever one’s feelings about guns — and the Sandy Hook families themselves hold a variety of views — the volume serves as an affecting reminder of the costs of violence, and in that way invites us to empathy.