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Despite melodrama, Yaeger hits on 'Truth'

From the moment television crews arrived on campus last spring, it was inevitable that books would be written about the lacrosse rape scandal.

Here's the surprise: This one's worth picking up.

Don Yaeger's "It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered" (Simon & Schuster, $25) treats the whole episode as a story, and the result is a book as readable as any novel.

The problem, of course, is that it's not fiction. These events really did happen. In spite of the inclusion of a "cast of characters" at the end of the book, all of the slick writing only serves to distract from the explosiveness of the facts.

The over-the-top writing style is both the book's greatest strength and biggest flaw. His storytelling ability and near-biographical accounts of the case's celebrities draw readers in, but they also cheapen the overall message.

This is a story that needs no embellishment. Who doesn't know the basics by now? Three lacrosse players were falsely accused by an out-of-control district attorney and dragged through the mud by a national media drunk on the power of its own shoddy reporting.

If all that is common knowledge, "It's Not About the Truth" proves there is still much to tell.

Co-authoring with Mike Pressler, Yaeger spills the secrets of the former men's lacrosse coach's diary, and the details will shock anyone with even a cursory interest in the case.

Without spoiling the book, it's fair to say that Duke's administration-President Richard Brodhead and chief spokesperson John Burness, in particular-is portrayed as clueless or worse.

"It's Not About the Truth" will not be nominated as summer reading for incoming freshmen anytime soon. But that doesn't mean it would not make a fine choice, at this university or any other.

In the forward, Yaeger laments that Burness did not allow the him to speak to Brodhead. It may have been a different story with the president's perspective.

If Yaeger's narrative style undermines the gravity of the story, it at least makes the obvious lessons of the scandal accessible to the uninitiated reader.

One hopes, however, such a reader would study the case beyond this book, because it has a number of deep flaws.

As a current Duke undergraduate, this reviewer was amazed at the egregious overquoting of Stephen Miller, Trinity '06, who hardly represents the myriad perspectives of the student body. There is also some evidence of padding; did any reader require a full-page excerpt from an Ann Coulter column?

And large sections of the book are already obsolete, casualties of the book's rush to publication. The Kyle Dowd case has been resolved, for instance, and the ethics hearing for Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong is in full swing.

Barring a major update for a second edition, "It's Not About the Truth" seems destined for the bargain bin by the end of the summer.

But at its core, the book is about Pressler and the injustices he suffered at the hands of the school he loved.

For those of us who continue to love the University, this book is a must read.

Blog: Read Rob Copeland's reaction to seeing Chronicle staffers cited in Yaeger's book