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First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875 - 1920 Hardcover – May 15, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0674021495 ISBN-10: 0674021495 Edition: First Edition

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First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875 - 1920 + Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (May 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674021495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674021495
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,858,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The most important work in the growing field of homicide studies to be published in some time. The importance of the city, the nearly fifty-year time scale, the cogency and subtlety of the argument, the sources of unparalleled richness all make for an impressive whole. I learned a lot, much of it rather surprising, from this original book. (Roger Lane, author of Violent Death in the City)

I can't think of any book in any discipline that has done a better job of coming to grips with America's homicide problem. In a nicely written and beautifully organized work, Adler tells moving stories about the lives of Chicagoans and the ways in which their frustrations led to violence. I recommend it enthusiastically. (Randolph A. Roth, author of The Democratic Dilemma)

First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt is outstanding. In Adler's skilled hands, what could be just a litany of urban chaos becomes understandable. Distraught moms, angry bar brawlers, cold-blooded robbers, and careless drivers draw the reader into a city being transformed by migration, immigration, industrial growth and changing family life. I could not put the book down. (Eric H. Monkkonen, author of Murder in New York City)

Adler tells this story with verve. Someone is killed more than every second page, as 226 separate incidents draw the reader into this shifting culture of violence...In the end Adler's message is clear: Commerce and reckless driving aside, our streets and homes are safer when people don't have reason to fear their future financial stability, and men lose their obsession with the privileges and imperatives of manhood. (James Grossman Chicago Tribune 2006-07-02)

Fascinating reading...It's rather stunning to get a feel for how violence never really disappears, but instead continually shifts and adapts to its surroundings, whether those surroundings are the more rough-and-tumble nineteenth century or the more industrialized and efficient twentieth. (Sarah Statz 2006-09-01)

[A] fascinating and important book. (Timothy B. Spears American Historical Review 2007-04-01)

Will our fascination with murder ever diminish? Unlikely, and Jeffrey S. Adler’s exploration of homicide in Chicago from 1875-1920 continues to whet our appetite for news, conclusions, speculations, and stories about homicides. First, let’s get one thing straight. This is a book about lives, not about deaths. One reason why we—the movie-going public, the readers of detective fiction and popular novels, criminologists, historians, and legal scholars—all love homicide, read about it, write about it, is because homicide reveals so much about people’s lives: homicides tell us about the lives of the victims, as split open by the event as their heads; the lives of the defendants, whose confessions or denials are accompanied by incriminating background information and speculation about who they were and why they did it; even the family members and the investigators are stripped naked for the gawking. This being said, this is not a salacious book, or an exploitative book. It is a scholarly treatment of homicide as one source, often the only source, of data about how people lived and died in a very interesting time and place, Chicago from 1875-1920. (Leigh Bienen Law and History Review 2007-09-01)

Several factors combine to make this book rival Eric Monkkenon’s study of New York as the best history of big city homicide yet published. Start with Chicago in its explosively growing heyday, 1875–1920, its reputation for murderous violence unmatched; add numerous contemporary reports and studies; stir in some theoretical points scored for and against Norbert Elias and the Chicago School of Sociology; and throw in a juicy title from Lincoln Steffens. But the key ingredient is an unmatched collection of primary sources, led by nearly 6,000 detailed police reports, which allow Jeffrey Adler to exercise his interpretative skills with more subtlety and precision than any previous researcher. (Roger Lane Urban History 2007-12-01)

About the Author

Jeffrey S. Adler is Professor of History and Criminology, University of Florida.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen L. Zuhlke on December 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The rebuilding of Chicago after the fire of 1871, was the beginning of a new era and influx of immigrants into the US largest cities. Skilled trades were being streamlined into factory assembly line work. The entertainment industry was still a pasttime of the elite. The abundant supply of corner bars met the demand of the male factory worker demographic. Adler gathers all of the sociological factors of this time period and defines the trends that he found when cross matching time period, socioeconomic status and ethnic background. There is even further analysis based on the time frame of how long an immigrant resided in the US prior to commiting his crime. One murderer was acquitted based on the arguement that he was abiding by the rules of "the old country". It was a fascinating read and made me hungry for more.
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Format: Hardcover
Chicago's reputation as a danger zone did not begin with the machinegun-toting gangsters of the Twenties. Jeffrey S. Adler's book proves that the husky, brawling "City of Big Shoulders" was the most violent urban center in the United States long before Al Capone and Bugs Moran went to war.

"First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt" is a study of Chicago homicide between 1875 and 1920. After analyzing over six thousand murder cases, Adler presents conclusions demonstrating how immigration, poverty, industrialization, and other social factors affected not only the levels but also the types of violence.

According to Adler, drunken brawls were a major cause of violent death during the 1875-1890 period. Poor, single men relied on physical aggression to attain elevated status among their peers, with sometimes deadly results. When saloon culture waned and these men married, the domestic sphere became the new proving ground for their masculine identities. Spousal homicides rose when abusive husbands reacted to defiance by murdering their wives, and battered women used deadly force to protect themselves. Levels and types of violence were also affected by immigration and racial factors, as evidenced by the Black Hand terrorism and race riots.

For me, the book's well-researched arguments made it a worthy read, but a word of caution to those whose tastes run toward lighter fare: this is not an anthology of murder stories like Lesy's "Murder City". There are a few case studies put forward to bolster Adler's conclusions, but "First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt" is primarily a sociological text, emphasizing statistics and trends more than case and killer profiles. There aren't even any photographs except on the cover, although there are charts and graphs aplenty.

If it were ever possible to make sense out of violence, Adler has come the closest to doing so.
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