The United States has the highest levels of homicide of any advanced industrial democracy in the world. And some of it, according to experts, is directly attributable to the public's constant exposure to violent entertainment in television shows, movies, videos, and sadistic interactive games. In this watershed work, Harvard Distinguished Fellow Sissela Bok (Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life) again demonstrates her ability to shed light on complicated ethical issues.

She sets the problem in a broad historical and cultural context by tracing responses to violence in ancient Rome, in eighteenth century Geneva, right up to contemporary debates about violent entertainments by Bill Moyers, Robert Bork, and others. She reports on recent research showing that continual exposure to violent entertainment can lead to a greater sense of fearfulness and pessimism, more callousness and indifference to others, and increased aggression.

Bok closes Mayhem with a survey of initiatives in Canada, Norway, Australia, and Singapore to stem the tide of violence with V-chips, media literacy, and citizen advocacy programs. She calls for a coordinated public effort in the United States to counter the effects of media violence without resorting to censorship.