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Payback: The Case for Revenge Kindle Edition

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Length: 325 pages

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Editorial Reviews


“Because it is often regarded as ‘un-Christian’ revenge has acquired a bad name.  In this incisive analysis, Thane Rosenbaum argues that revenge is a hunger in most injured hearts and the very fundament of our idea of justice. This is a compelling and provocative book, immensely valuable both for its close reasoning and its honesty.”
(Scott Turow)

“Revenge is seldom discussed with seriousness when looking at various formats for the delivery of justice. . . . But it does need to be examined, as Thane Rosenbaum shows in this wide-ranging consideration of revenge as a cultural phenomenon. He specifically targets the comfortable fiction, relied on by so many experts and politicians, that civilized adults can and should rise above such emotions. . . . One of its strengths is its multidisciplinarity, drawing ideas from life, science, literature and history to reflect on recent crimes that have caused real moral dilemmas and perceived failures in justice delivery. It will be recommended reading on quite a few book lists because of this. . . . Payback is worth reading, even if only to disagree with it.”

(Times Higher Education)

"Thane Rosenbaum convincingly argues for knocking down the false distinction between justice and revenge, for rescuing revenge from its taboo status."
(Washington Post)

“This erudite book, which combines the history of our criminal justice system with the most recent headline crime news, is bound to create political and legal controversy because it challenges the sacred cow maintaining that there is no place for revenge, or retribution, in our legal system. Thane Rosenbaum argues persuasively that criminal justice must acknowledge retributive needs if it is to work effectively. Many, including me, will disagree with some of his ideas—especially his contention that victims should have a much larger role in determining the ultimate penalties for those convicted of crimes. But these are vital questions, too often unexamined, and this is a book that opens a much-needed public dialogue.”
(Susan Jacoby, author of Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge)

"One of our most original and compelling thinkers about the law and its limitations, Thane Rosenbaum takes on the theme whose name dare not be spoken in polite circles: revenge. With his singular panache and mastery of sources from Supreme Court cases to popular culture to--gasp--life itself, Rosenbaum takes us on a substantive and stylistic tour de force that leads to the 'shocking' conclusion that if the law won't set things right, which it so often fails to do, then it is okay, indeed moral, for us to do so ourselves."
(Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler's Willing Executioners)

“In this brilliant book, Thane Rosenbaum finds language for what all of us, at one time or another, have felt in our bones—that there is a law higher than those made by legislatures or courts; and that, when evil appears among us, an appropriate response is the oldest: revenge. Independent thinking at its best, Rosenbaum's fiercely argued text dares to speak truth to cowardice and calls us to understand and accommodate the demand that a punishment fit the crime and that the score be settled in the Chicago Way.”
(Rich Cohen, author of The Avengers)

"Thane Rosenbaum inhabits both the fact-based legal world and the emotion-based arts realm, able to address everything from talion to The Princess Bride. His satisfying work gives us permission, contrary to contemporary politeness, to assert 'honor in payback.' Far from wanting chaos, Rosenbaum argues that leaving aggrieved parties on legal margins, and their emotions outside its doors, leads to more violence, even madness. He suggests that in the real world's cold rationality, it's only through art we publicly admit 'evil does, indeed, exist in the world.' And in light of the emerging field of narrative medicine, to seal this gap we could acknowledge lawyers as agents with a social contract to a client's emotional life. Refreshingly honest, Rosenbaum renders a consequential, often gruesome topic uplifting, even fun."
(Publishers Weekly)

"With extensive references to popular culture, literary sources, academic studies, contemporary news events, and actual case law, Thane Rosenbaum develops his arguments and challenges readers to consider vengeance as a moral right and a cure for what ails the current system. He makes a difficult topic accessible and succeeds in asking questions that deserve consideration. Recommended.”

(Library Journal)

"In calling for revenge to be better understood, appreciated and taken into account within the justice system, Rosenbaum is on interesting, occasionally persuasive ground. . . .  Rosenbaum's trawl of such issues is both informative and entertaining."
(Literary Review)

“The book’s disturbing theme is that revenge is an important aspect of justice and should be more prominent in American jurisprudence. Readers may initially be repelled, but Rosenbaum asks them to stick with the book long enough to consider what it would mean if revenge, visceral and personal, were incorporated into the judicial process. . . . The book is cross-cultural, even handed, well sourced. . . and bound to spark heated discussions. Essential.”

About the Author

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, and law professor. He is the author of The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right, as well as four novels, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke,the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, and the novel for young adults, The Stranger within Sarah Stein. His articles, reviews, and essays appear frequently in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Huffington Post, among others. He lives in New York, where he is the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Fordham Law School and directs the Forum on Law, Culture, and Society.

Product Details

  • File Size: 612 KB
  • Print Length: 325 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0226726614
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (April 10, 2013)
  • Publication Date: April 10, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #879,412 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Susan Jane Pethick on April 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was prompted to buy this book after hearing the author on NPR. He struck me as a thoughtful man with great insight into both human nature and the law, yet the interviewer seemed more interested in refuting his arguments than in giving his ideas a fair hearing. I was intrigued. What was so threatening about Mr. Rosenbaum's ideas that the interviewer was willing to treat his guest rudely on a nationally-broadcast radio program? Was the author some sort of blood-thirsty maniac?

The answer, I'm happy to say, is a resounding, "No!" In fact, I believe this is one of the most important books of social commentary that I've ever read. Using evidence from game theory, psychological experiments, brain scans, and anthropological studies, Rosenbaum makes a convincing case for the human need for fairness and moral balance. He then takes us into the modern American courtroom where victims are silenced, truth is irrelevant, and the restoration of moral balance is no longer possible. In such circumstances, Rosenbaum asks, are we not at risk of provoking the kind of vengeance-seeking from victims of crime that our justice system was created to abolish?

Rosenbaum points out that the desire for revenge created by our dysfunctional justice system has found an outlet in art, and his use of fictional characters to illustrate some of his points is enlightening. Fiction is a useful tool for revealing the true nature of situations that in real life are often too nuanced or ponderous (a movie is over in a couple of hours; a crime may not be prosecuted for decades) to understand at anything other than a subconscious level. I found myself wondering if the preponderance of violent video games is a reflection of this human need to rebalance a world that seems devoid of moral balance and honor.
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24 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Oribasius on April 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The real problem with this book is that the author confuses what is hardwired with what ought to be. The basic premise is, 'hey, we're hardwired for revenge, so get out there and exact your pound of flesh.' There is no consideration for the notion that just because there are (potentially) some vestiges in our psyche that crave revenge that revenge in itself is unhealthy for society.

I heard an interview on NPR with this author, and he seemed annoyed with anyone who called in questioning his premise continually stating that it was impossible to have a real conversation with these people, yet he continually dodged their questions, showing that he was the one who couldn't have a real conversation about the topic. When asked what revenge would look like for someone who was raped, he said that was a good question but then never answered it. It almost seems like he wrote this book with one purpose in mind - to provoke.

If you're someone who believes that unending cyclical retribution is the best path forward for the human race, then this book is for you. But it wasn't for me.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joel Brandner Davis on July 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The University of Chicago Press is arguably the best university press going, but this book is a disgrace. Through five chapters it produces nothing but repetitions of the claim "victims have rights!" and a tedious stream of anecdotes. I bought it thinking it might be useful in a course on vengeance, paranoia, and revenge drama I teach, especially because the state-centered system of justice and rehabilitative punishment really are flawed, but the book lacks cogent argument, philosophical nuance, and historical depth. My freshmen regularly produce better arguments than this. It's a waste of time and money. If you want a real book on the topic, try John Kerrigan's Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon, also on Amazon.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Boils on July 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The " author" is an NYU law prof. Such low standards these days? The book is a total waste and completely repetitive. The good reviews are likely from friends. This tome is a waste of digits and paper. It is so primal that it comes from the jungle. Such angry thoughts belongs on a Freudian couch.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James J. Sexton on May 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Thane Rosenbaum has never been one to shy away from taking a controversial position on current affairs. His prior non-fiction work, "The Myth of Moral Justice" was, at its core, an indictment of our legal system's current inability to reconcile the human need for catharsis with the pragmatic administrative demands on the court system. In "Payback : The Case for Revenge" Thane lends his razor sharp focus to the broader question of how "justice" can be properly defined in civilized society, particularly in light of massive atrocities (such as 9/11, the Boston bombings and other similar events). Readers of Rosenbaum's prior fiction and non-fiction offerings will, as always, enjoy his unique voice and his insightful references to popular art and culture as barometers to our social and cultural conscience. In this, his latest offering, it is clear that Rosenbaum has continued to mature and develop as a writer and thinker - without losing the highly readable style that made his prior works so accessible and enjoyable. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. One does not typically see a non-fiction cultural commentary as a "page turner" but Payback is precisely that.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Meaghan on June 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author makes an interesting argument here, certainly worth thinking about. He drew on a lot of sources, from contemporary criminal cases to classical works of psychology to Bible stories. The writing, however, was quite dry, and short as the book was, it took me a long time to finish it. 3.5, rounded up to 4.
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