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Crime and Punishment in American History Hardcover – October 19, 1993

4.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This wide-ranging history, full of quirky details and thoughtful analysis, is a valuable synthesis of research tracing the tensions between American liberty and its costs. Following a brief section on the colonial period and the role of religion and ideology in criminal justice, Friedman, a Stanford law professor, explores important changes in the 19th century, such as the evolution of penitentiaries, the professionalization of the police, the explosion of swindles in a newly mobile society. Approximately half the book is devoted to the 20th century, with its own increase of crime and controversies over such issues as plea bargaining, the death penalty and laws regulating morality. Friedman's predictions on the future are scanty and not particularly optimistic. He sees few practicable solutions for crime, which he views as an organic part of the society it preys upon. "Perhaps--just perhaps--the siege of crime may be the price we pay for a brash, self-loving, relatively free and open society." History Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A social history of American criminal justice that offers not abstruse legal analysis or philosophy, but the practical story of ``a working system and what makes it tick.'' Friedman (Law/Stanford) argues that ``judgments about crime, and what to do about it, come out of a specific time and place.'' Thus, he links the criminal-justice systems of different periods of American history to varying characteristics of American society. Colonial courts, for instance, because of their religious orientation, punished not only crimes against persons or property but also acts of private immorality that would no longer be classified as crimes; moreover, these courts relied primarily on public punishments emphasizing shame (such as confinement in the pillory or stocks) rather than on incarceration. Surveying 19th- century criminal justice, Friedman explores the impact of the disenfranchisement of blacks and women; the increasing mobility of society; and the changing role of morality. Similarly, the 20th century has witnessed an enormous increase in the creation of regulatory crimes (particularly in the fields of taxation, securities, and antitrust regulation). Friedman contends that the more permissive, individualistic culture of 20th-century America has qualitatively changed types and motivations of violent crime: In a phenomenon inconceivable in the more disciplined, self- controlled societies of the past two centuries, today's people often commit crimes in order to give themselves a sense of self- worth (``crimes of the self''). After grimly surveying the explosive growth of crime in postwar America, Friedman sadly concludes that, because of rapid changes in society, and despite public obsession with the crime issue, ``we are likely to bump along more or less as we are.'' An absorbing and thoughtful study, scholarly but told in a folksy, unpretentious style. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (October 19, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014613
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,167,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Crime and Punishment in American History", by Lawrence Friedman, was definitely interesting and thought-provoking. It is just technical enough in detail and substance to give an intimate feel for the specifics of the subject matter, but still geared enough toward the more uninitiated in the field of criminal justice (such as myself) so as to not come off as boorish or formidable. Friedman does an excellent job of documenting the evolution of American criminal justice, both the mechanics of law and punishment, and also the cultural motivations behind the evolution. In places, especially towards the end of the book where he deals with 20th century material, he seems to display somewhat of a "ho-hum" attitude towards the licentiousness that has pervaded American society, especially in his exultations that the laws against "victimless" crimes are being repealed. He also has a low-level, pervasive theme of class struggle as a root of criminal injustices which tends towards socialism. All in all, however, a good read despite the occasional leftist aside. I recommend it to anyone interested in the social sciences, even if these are not your primary field of study.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I assigned it for a history of crime and punishment class that I taught in a medium-security prison and my students found it accessible and enjoyable to read. great introduction to the topic-- I wish he would update it.
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Format: Paperback
This is an illuminating essay on american criminal justice in an historical context aimed at the general reader. I've used it as required reading in my history of criminal justice course, taught annually to a wide variety of adult learners. They have overwhelmingly found it helpful. They bear out my own impression that Friedman's approach is fair-minded and grounded in solid erudition.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Astute thinkers will understand the foibles and imperfections of the U.S. criminal justice system much more intelligently by grasping the arguments and evidence presented in this brilliant book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Item as described. Thank you!
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