Book Review: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by John Krakauer

In Missoula, the Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the city police between January 2008 and May 2012.  A paltry few of these reports were handled properly by the university or local authorities.  John Krakauer’s book takes a look at this college town’s handling of sexual assault and turns an eye to the larger issue of rape culture and sexual assault in the United States today.

Krakauer’s book is not an easy read, despite being compulsively readable. There are few authors working today who can craft narrative non-fiction like Krakauer, and that is on full display here.  This difficult, disturbing, and ultimately necessary book is a look at rape culture in a wholly in-depth way.  This should be required reading for basically everyone, but especially for teens about to enter the adult world (and college freshman everywhere).

The book is meticulous in its research of the cases it reports on.  Krakauer focuses on several different assault cases with wildly different outcomes and presents the facts in a way that is both authentic and riveting.  This is a page-turner of a book, and readers will have a hard time putting it down as a result.  Krakauer allows the accusers to have a voice in the narrative but also manages to report in a way that seems fair to both sides (the dudes are guilty, though–make no mistake about that).

Also notable is how much research Krakauer has done with regard to acquaintance rape.  Krakauer takes pains to explain what exactly it is while also providing snippets of actual quotes from people within the town of Missoula to help illustrate the broader culture’s views about rape.  It’s disturbing and all too real for anyone who has ever witnessed rape culture firsthand.

Because Krakauer relies so heavily on transcripts from the court trials and university proceedings, there is very little insight into the prosecution side, especially where he couldn’t obtain interviews.  Missoula prosecutor Kirsten Pabst, who quits her post to later defend one of the accused rapists, is never interviewed in the book, making the reader’s interactions with her limited by court transcripts.  Pabst doesn’t come off very well in the book (she’s basically the worst), and this is where skeptics might take issue with Krakauer’s reporting.

On the whole, though, this is an exemplary piece of journalism.  A must-read, standout non-fiction book.  Highly recommended.

Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town by John Krakauer. Doubleday: 2015. Library copy.

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