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Eye for an Eye

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521704670
ISBN-10: 0521704677
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Getting even, as the biblical precept implies, is the essence of justice, according to this engaging essay. It's a simple idea, but Miller, a University of Michigan law professor (The Anatomy of Disgust), finds a world of social complexity in humanity's efforts to get the accounting right. He explores the inventive methods people have used to assign a concrete valuation to body parts (in the seventh century, King Aethelberht of Kent prescribed 10 shillings' compensation for a lost big toe), to whole human beings, to injuries and intangibles like pain and humiliation. Miller considers the fine weighing of debts and even our intrinsic value as humans (he's big on rankings and 10-best lists) to be nuanced and even poetic. Drawing on history, philosophy, linguistics and cultural anthropology, Miller pursues these themes down many byways, meandering from Hammurabi's code to cannibalism themes in The Merchant of Venice and the eternal frustration of Wile E. Coyote. He doesn't have a thesis, but he has a decided admiration for "honor cultures," where justice is structured by personal obligation, payback and revenge rather than a modern regime of abstract rights conferred by an impersonal state. Miller offers a discursive, erudite, idiosyncratic but illuminating reappraisal of our urge to settle scores. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Widely dismissed as a relic of barbarism, the law of retribution--an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth--evokes in Miller a profound sense of respect. As a legal scholar well versed in literature and philosophy, Miller orchestrates a fascinating dialogue between the bards of heroic antiquity and the moral theorists of modern democracies, so exposing the smug complacency of modern idealism to the interrogation of bygone eras' stern legal realists. Readers see in this interrogation how the grim ancient arithmetic of corpse for corpse, flesh for flesh, ensured justice and protected life, often much more effectively than do the modern ideologies of individual rights. Clear illustrations drawn from Icelandic sagas and Hebrew scripture, from Shakespeare's plays and Clint Eastwood's films, draw readers into a legal investigation short on jargon and long on saucy humor. Miller hardly seeks a return to the lex talionis that scripted the way tribal chieftains once defended their honor and their peoples' security. But he does want readers to recognize how much modern protocols for justice and compensation are ultimately rooted in a primal calculus of vengeance and dismemberment. And he also wants readers to understand how often modern jurisprudence lapses into bureaucratic routine and statistical cost/benefit formulas that mean less to most moral sensibilities than the old rules for getting even. A provocative reminder of the primal passions hidden by sanitized legal theories. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521704677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521704670
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,462,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
After five dazzling books each penned - in its own way - at the outlands of the vast intellectual map he is master of - William Ian Miller now gives us Eye for an Eye - a supercharged book fixed inexorably, brilliantly and meticulously at the core of his unrivaled expertise on revenge cultures; a book which explicates with extraordinary sensitivity, precision, even delicacy Miller's tough-minded sensibility about justice. In his preface Miller calls his book "an anti-theory of justice." The appellation is less a description of his own work than a concise critique (so very concise, indeed, as to be a flat dismissal) of the abstract theories of justice that have dominated the academy in the past century and have made scholarly writings about justice irrelevant to 99.99% of the world. Yet Miller's book is a theory of justice - one which insists that justice is about righting the balance, achieving reciprocity and cultivating a willingness to bear the not inconsiderable costs of getting even. Miller explores and explains the nuances of balance in its relation to wrongdoing and he argues convincingly that revenge - to be worthy of the name - must be finely tuned, skillfully measured, and meted out with intelligence (not to mention style). Miller demonstrates the admirable sophistication of revenge cultures. He shows us both how vengeance within such cultures was not indiscriminate, unbridled violence and that much intellectual agility and practical reasonableness went into getting it right when getting even.

Eye for an Eye is also a theory of the body and the body in its relation to justice.
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Format: Paperback
William Ian Miller pinpoints the key difficulty in dealing with compensation for bodily loss: the market price of the lost part cannot match the value of its former contribution to the unmolested organism. Lex talionis affords a solution to this disparity by enabling the victim to opt for incurring a reciprocal loss in lieu of accepting monetary compensation offered by the party responsible for his injury. The ensuing threat of losing a valuable organ inspires the perpetrator to raise his offer to the level implicit in its ownership.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a daring book, it challenges the status quo.
It offers insight on the game-theory behind the current disaster in which there is NO SUCH THING as an OPEN and SHUT CASE. For example Brian Nichols, the defenders were able to get more than a million dollars of state-funds to defend him, when due to the shootings being accomplished with the gun he stole from his jailer, this WAS an open-and-shut-case if there ever was one.
SO this book, plus "The Forever War", in which the author describes that at least under the Taliban there WILL be payback, between these two books you see why foreigners looking for a justice system, they read about the trial of Brian Nichols, and they say no we can't afford a system lacking efficient processing of the open-and-shut-case, "An Eye for an Eye".
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A gem. I love it, my high school aged kids love it, and anyone who hears what the book's about is intrigued. Revenge comes to life as a rational, well-ordered system of justice and incentives, of bargaining in the shadow of disaster. Miller's books are always insightful and entertaining, but (along with "Disgust") this one is my favorite.
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Format: Paperback
This was a fascinating book presenting a a far different, and more interesting, take on the meaning of justice than most people would form for themselves. Writing about various ages, from Mesopotamia to honour societies, from ancient practices to the formation of the modern court system, Miller presents modern justice as merely a codification of the concept of 'an eye for an eye'.

Referencing sources both modern and ancient, including the Bible, the Torah, Shakespeare and Harvard Law Reviews, Miller makes his point thoroughly and often. My main gripe with this book (and the one thing that prevented me from completing it) is that it tended to become quite repetitive - I feel it could have been quite a bit shorter. Having said that, the author makes some good points and this book is worth reading.
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