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Crime & Human Nature: The Definitive Study of the Causes of Crime [Paperback]

by James Q. Wilson, Richard J. Herrnstein
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Since its establishment, the field of American criminology has been dominated by liberal scholars. But, over the past ten years, neoconservatism has become a force in criminology. Wilson, the leading advocate of this right-ward move, and Herrnstein, who is noted for his work on I.Q., race, and meritocracy, have written what should become the major source on this important development in criminology. Its moderate, Aristotelian behavioral theory is reminiscent of Edward Banfield's Unheavenly City Revisited and Ernest Van Den Haag's Punishing Criminals , but this book probably will have greater impact than either of these or any of Wilson's and Herrnstein's earlier writings. It will be praised by many and criticized by others who will complain that it does not expose the proper ``myths about crime,'' does not explain why ``the rich get richer and the poor get prison,'' and turns attention away from the corrupting influence of modern institutions. Essential reading for anyone seriously interested in crime or human nature. John Broderick, Sociology Department, Stone hill College, N. Easton, Mass.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (January 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684852667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684852669
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
When Wilson and Herrnstein's "Crime and Human Nature" first appeared in 1985, it caused a major debate. American sociologists had generally ascribed crime to environmental factors, particularly poverty. Wilson and Herrnstein proposed that constitutional factors, coupled with poor parenting, were really the causes of crime. It was the first major examination of such factors since the early days of criminology. The authors proposed that the following constitutional factors predisposed an individual to crime:
1) Mesomorphic body type: There are three body types and mesomorphs are described as heavily built, either muscular or fat, and shorter than average. The authors don't even attempt to explain why this would predispose an individual to crime. But the statistics they use to back up this claim can't really be denied. Criminals are overwhelmingly mesomorphs with a slight emphasis to endomorphism (roundness) rather than ectomorphism (lean build). Stereotypes of criminals back up this claim: Think of the way famous mafiosos are built: John Gotti, Sammy Gravano, Tony Soprano, etc. Realizing that they can't explain why this affects crime, the authors simply state that it shows that constitutional factors matter; The other biological factors they describe are more straightforward.
2) Age: Criminals are predominantly young. Crime peaks from ages 16-25 and begins to descend downwards from thereon, although violent crime peaks from ages 24-28. Unlike body type, the authors seem to think they know why age causes crime, offering several possibilities. Young people have shorter time horizons, and are more interested in immediate gratification. Young people are less well off financially, have less dependents and so on. Few people would dispute age as a major factor in crime.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fearless in pursuit of the truth May 21, 2005
At a time when PC activists are seeking to destroy the careers of academics who dare to suggest that not all people are created equal, this book is a reminder of what is at stake. "Crime and Human Nature" is a fearless, compelling attempt to get to the heart of a subject that concerns everybody in modern society. The authors present the whole picture, theories, evidence, and controversies, with rigor and clarity. You will not find a better survey of the subject anywhere. The book should also be required reading for anybody who wants to learn how to construct an argument.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not PC, but the truth often isn't December 15, 2004
I read this book for a philosophy class in college. After having done more research, I realized how important this work really is. The prevailing theories and proposed solutions for the crime problem in the U.S. are not represented here. That is mostly likely because the views and statistics found in this book are not politically correct. However, I believe they have much more merit, as they are founded on common sense and realistic strategies.

People reading this book will understand how throwing money at problems is ineffective and wasteful. You will also understand a very basic principle that I believe is greatly misunderstood:

There is no such thing as effective rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a myth.

That isn't to say that people in prison cannot benefit from time, patience, and education. The simple truth is that there is no known effective method for changing people's behavior. And I think the general population has been duped into believing there is.

In any case, give this book a read, and see if it doesn't challenge the way you view the world and the people in it.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many books on criminology bog down in confusion over definitions. The authors, both Harvard professors, describe their work as attempting to explain "not the behavior of 'society' but the behavior of individuals making up a society." Accordingly, it does not split hairs over whether "crime" is merely "any act committed in violation of a law that prohibits it and authorizes punishment for its commitment". They go to the heart of crime, as committed by human beings in a violent manner... "chiefly refer to aggressive, violent, r larcenous behavior; they will be for the most part, about persons who hit, rapport, murder, steal and threaten." In our own time, headlines and police blotters are increasingly filled with violence of extraordinary import and monstrosity. An infant in a stroller is casually shot dead when his mother does not have money to give to a youthful thief. A ten year old boy is thrown off the roof of a Chicago project tower when his mother refuses to pay "protection money" to a resident gang of youthful gangsters. Statistics of violent murder and mayhem in inner cities like Chicago, many by young gangsters with guns in a city that bans guns, puzzles our minds. Things should not go this badly. We look to more responsibility of parents, teachers, communities. And still, violent crime increases. These authors present their findings in a conversational manner, worthy of interesting and spell-binding professors, bent on maintaining the interest of their overburdened students. Their answers are found in a study of human nature, social environment, Factors are considered, from economics to environment, television programming, drugs, and focusing on the young age group of immature and highly emotional younger people who commit most of the violent crimes. How did they get that way? Read more ›
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