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A General Theory of Crime Paperback – March 1, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0804717748 ISBN-10: 0804717745 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804717745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804717748
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[The authors] present a tour de force critique of past research and offer nothing less than a theory that 'explains all crime, at all times.' . . . The intellectual weight of Gottfredson and Hirschi's efforts is . . . a 'must read' . . . provocative, brilliantly argued, and always challenging."—Robert J. Sampson, University of Chicago

"Most researchers who formulate theories of crime are timid, seeking to explain a small piece of the puzzle (e.g., gangs, female delinquency) at a specific point in time. Not so with Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi. In A General Theory of Crime they present a tour de force critique of the past research and offer nothing less than a theory that "explains all crime, at all times." Normally such a claim would be dimissed by criminologists as wishful thinking, perhaps worse. But the intellectual weight of Gottfredson and Hirschi's efforts is forcing criminologists to take notice and rethink some cherished assumptions. Indeed, this book is a "must read" that is provocative, brilliantly argued, and always challenging."—University of Chicago

"This book is well worthy of study and provides a comprehensive and challenging reading of theory and data."—British Journal of Criminology

"This book presents powerful arguments, turns many neat phrases, shows that much criminology is confused about its purpose or blind to its inconsistencies, demonstrates the profound implications of its argument for criminology, generally, and for the ways it is studied, specifically, and will almost convince a reader that black is white. . . .This is an excellent book. Nobody interested in crime and deviance can afford to ignore it."—American Journal of Sociology

"A General Theory of Crime effectively battles misconceptions about crime, criminals, and appropriate law-enforcement techniques that have all too long dominated thinking in the United States."—Criminal Law Bulletin

From the Inside Flap

By articulating a general theory of crime and related behavior, the authors present a new and comprehensive statement of what the criminological enterprise should be about. They argue that prevalent academic criminology—whether sociological, psychological, biological, or economic—has been unable to provide believable explanations of criminal behavior.
The long-discarded classical tradition in criminology was based on choice and free will, and saw crime as the natural consequence of unrestrained human tendencies to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. It concerned itself with the nature of crime and paid little attention to the criminal. The scientific, or disciplinary, tradition is based on causation and determinism, and has dominated twentieth-century criminology. It concerns itself with the nature of the criminal and pays little attention to the crime itself. Though the two traditions are considered incompatible, this book brings classical and modern criminology together by requiring that their conceptions be consistent with each other and with the results of research.
The authors explore the essential nature of crime, finding that scientific and popular conceptions of crime are misleading, and they assess the truth of disciplinary claims about crime, concluding that such claims are contrary to the nature of crime and, interestingly enough, to the data produced by the disciplines themselves. They then put forward their own theory of crime, which asserts that the essential element of criminality is the absence of self-control. Persons with high self-control consider the long-term consequences of their behavior; those with low self-control do not. Such control is learned, usually early in life, and once learned, is highly resistant to change.
In the remainder of the book, the authors apply their theory to the persistent problems of criminology. Why are men, adolescents, and minorities more likely than their counterparts to commit criminal acts? What is the role of the school in the causation of delinquincy? To what extent could crime be reduced by providing meaningful work? Why do some societies have much lower crime rates than others? Does white-collar crime require its own theory? Is there such a thing as organized crime? In all cases, the theory forces fundamental reconsideration of the conventional wisdom of academians and crimina justic practitioners. The authors conclude by exploring the implications of the theory for the future study and control of crime.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
"A general theory of crime" represents a paradigm shift in the way we think about crime and criminals. Like any other scientific paradigm shift, there has been great resistance to the theory by sociologists who continue to blame crime on social deprivation, poverty and other social causes. The book discredits old sociological theories and illustrates that the cause of crime is poor parenting and the failure of parents to teach their children to delay gratification. Since the book's publication, it has been the most widely tested theory in criminology with substantial empirical support. If you want to understand the mind of a criminal offender and the nature of criminality, this is the book for you. The book also describes the necessary conditions for individual crimes to occur, a section that is valuable for readers who want to prevent their own victimization. In addition, the book demonstrates that offenders do not specialize in crime types like murder and sex crimes; instead, offenders tend to commit a wide variety of crimes and engage in a variety of self-destructive behaviors like drinking, drugging, speeding, traffic accidents, and promiscuous sex. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the general theory is the data presented that links age and crime, with peak arrest rates occurring between the ages of 17 and 19 and precipitously dropping off after the teenage years. The implications of the book for preventing crime are that we need to spend more money on early childhood programs that teach parents how to love their children and instill in them the self-control they need to delay gratification (such staying in school) and generally engage in long-term rather than short-term thinking.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is the best presentation of control theory in criminology. If you are prone to Marxist criminology, this book will drive you nuts. The problem that G&H run into a lot, however, is what makes a crime a crime. If a man saved a baby from being inside a locked car by breaking the front window, how exactly is that different (in terms of property damage) from a gang member getting his kicks -- breaking a car window at random? Why is one act right, but the other act wrong? The consequences are the same. So is crime all about intention and not consequences? G&H could have clarified this point more.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a great text for a Criminology class where you are following along in class. Be prepared that it is largely inaccesible due to vocabulary and other terminology and theories referenced which only will be familiar with those who study this subject on a collegiate level. It is mostly written for those on a graduate level or at least "not an entry level" is how I would classify it.

Gottfredson and Hirschi go through the theories and studies of many criminologists who theorize that criminality is caused by various sociological problems. They build up these theories and then dismantle them. Their literature review is fantastic. I won't go into the details of what their primary theory for crime is. I think that would be an unforgivable spoiler.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ksuzy on July 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
Gottfredson and Hirschi's theory of crime commission rests upon basic mostly unstated assumptions about human nature that people are essentially born selfish and with the desires to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. It is only through socialization that we learn how to control these impulses and delay gratification, so we can seek pleasure through society's legitimate means and avoid harming others. It is no surprise that they develop their definition of crime around this idea: "acts of force or fraud undertaken in the pursuit of self-interest." (p. 15).
There are, of course, several things wrong with this definition. They examine in their book behavior that does not meet this definition, such as drug use (not an act of force or fraud, although it fits the normally-conceived definition of a "crime" as being "illegal"). Furthermore, not all crimes are undertaken in the pursuit of self-interest (or at least ONLY in self-interest), for example, altruistic crimes and civil disobedience.
While studies that have actually tested it show it to be an important theory, many use behavioral measures lack external validity: they measure low self-control with the dependent variable itself by saying we can recognize people who have low self-control by their crimes and vise versa. This is a circular argument. Other studies question whether self-control is truly stable throughout the life course, which is one of the major premises of the book.
It's an interesting conceptual idea, but the theory as laid out in this book alone is hardly the "general theory of crime."
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