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Review: ‘Sandy Hook’ is vital reading in the post-truth age

“Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for the Truth” by Elizabeth Williamson (Dutton)

If you stand on a street corner all day yelling at passersby, you might reach a few hundred people. If you do the same thing on the internet, that number is comparatively limitless.

“Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for the Truth” is exactly what it purports to be, though the title couldn’t have prepared me for the level of schooling I was about to get.

Journalist Elizabeth Williamson’s new investigative piece is a bit longer than the news features you may be used to reading from her. “Sandy Hook” is split into almost 30 chapters, each one with as much care and integrity as the last.

Filled with the most impeccable details — the ones that rarely make it into tight news reports — Williamson draws on documented facts to paint pertinent portraits of the families and victims of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But only about a quarter of the book focuses on Sandy Hook and the people involved. The rest is about the internet and the fight for truth.

Williamson, a feature writer in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, waded through brackish swamps of misinformation, disinformation and trauma to arrive at a well documented explanation of a tragedy, receipts in hand and nicely organized in the book’s notes section.

Expert organization keeps the narrative momentum up, never stagnating on any one person or topic. Williamson artfully lays foundations throughout, using these touch points to gently remind readers who’s who in the long list of people who appear in “Sandy Hook.”

That said, the book is exhausting: vivid accounts of grief, heartbreaking details of Sandy Hook, terrifying things people have said and done in the dark anonymity of the internet. The thick web of connections explored within reaches from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to QAnon and everything in between.

Somehow, despite the depressing nature of the subject matter, “Sandy Hook” remains hopeful.

Conspiracies and our post-truth reality are topics that have become evergreen, making “Sandy Hook” one of the most important books of 2022. Events as recent as Joe Rogan’s fiasco with Spotify and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscore the need for a thorough examination of the climate that allowed — and continues to allow — dangerously false narratives to run amok.

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