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Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children (Library of Contemporary Thought) Paperback – May 18, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jonathan Kellerman is best known as the author of a series of bestselling suspense novels starring psychologist sleuth Dr. Alex Delaware, but his nonliterary background is as a children's clinical psychologist. In Savage Spawn, inspired by the schoolyard shootings that took place in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Springfield, Oregon, in 1998, he brings his training to bear on the question of how children can become cold-blooded killers. Kellerman has as much--perhaps more--to say about the broader issue of the nature of psychopathy, however, than he does about youth violence, though he does occasionally bring the two themes together. But Savage Spawn is essentially a hundred-page-plus op-ed piece rooted in Kellerman's belief that there are fundamentally bad people in the world and that the response to the perpetrators of violent acts such as the shooting at Jonesboro should be to "lock them up till they die." (Although published shortly after the multiple-death shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, the book was clearly written before this incident took place.) Readers may ultimately prefer more detailed considerations such as William Pollack's Real Boys or Lost Boys, by James Garbarino.

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Kellerman, a child psychologist who often uses the fictional character of Dr. Alex Delaware as his foil, here tackles the hot topic of violent children in a nonfiction formatApart of the ongoing Library of Contemporary Thought series. Using the recent school shootings in Oregon, Arkansas and Colorado as a hook, he vents his own views on "childhood criminality as a social destructor." Relying on personal case histories, he provides a general profile for kiddie psychopaths. Mostly boys, from all kinds of backgrounds, these habitually violent kids are marked by their bravado and lack of conscience. In short, they're cold-blooded monsters who, when given access to guns, become deadly threats. Kellerman's personal views can be shrill, even alarmist, as he rails against such ills as "Marxist-derived social science norms," yet this novelist-on-a-soapbox diatribe plays convincingly in Gilliland's forceful reading, like an artfully constructed public speech. Based on the 1999 Ballantine paperback. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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When it comes to writing deftly layered, tightly coiled psychological thrillers, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman reigns supreme. Visit Amazon's Jonathan Kellerman Page.

Product Details

  • Series: Library of Contemporary Thought
  • Paperback: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 Reprint edition (May 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345429397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345429391
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By A Customer on September 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is not a book about troubled children in the usual sense of that phrase, meaning children who are who are angry, lonely and unhappy and who act on those feelings in destructive ways, such as getting into fights or taking drugs. This is about a much smaller group: children who are so psychologically damaged that they simply don't experience the normal range of human feelings. Troubled teens might hide their anxieties behind a facade of cool contempt for others; but for child psychopaths, Kellerman suggests, there's nothing behind the facade. They see other people not as fellow human beings, but as objects to be manipulated or dominated for their own ends.
Kellerman's most interesting hypothesis here is that such children have not been produced by a general decline in moral or social values; instead, he postulates that this psychological abnormality has probably occurred in a small percentage of the population of every human society that has existed. (This certainly would explain why the vast majority of children who are teased or bullied at school, or who watch violent movies and play violent computer games, etc., are nevertheless nice kids who grow into kind, decent adults.) The main difference now is that adolescent psychopaths on a killing spree have access to more sophisticated, efficient weapons than existed in the past.
As other reviewers have suggested, some of the interventions and remedies Kellerman suggests don't seem feasible. That doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong; it's possible that our only other option is to endure periodic school shootings (though that's certainly an upsetting thought).
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Comment 52 of 56 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
From the flavor of some of the past reviews, I wonder if the reviewers bothered to read the whole book...and read it carefully. It appears that a couple might have just skimmed through and this is no way to give any piece of literature a worthwhile critique.

Yes, Kellerman is a bit sensationalistic in his wording but do you think Average Joe would read the book if it read like a research paper?

No, certain of Kellerman's Utopian suggestions are not feasible. He says so. I guess certain readers missed this.

No, Kellerman's book does not offer a wealth of solutions towards treating violent youth. Read the back cover. This publication was not intended to offer treatments. It is clear that the purpose of the book was to present both sides of the "nature vs. nurture" argument and then to show how both play a role in creating the "savage spawn". Kellerman's point is that the issue is not cut and dried and the solutions are not simple because the resources to help these kids, simply isn't available.

He does toss in some supposed remedies at the end but these are the type of commentary one often hears from laypeople who think that we can just apply "quick fixes" and voila no more violent children. He wants readers to know that these options are not viable. He clearly states, "This comprehensive approach remains, sadly, an ideal". He does state, rather emphatically, however, that behavior modification is the key and closes with this reminder.

I disagree that it was sensationalistic to comment on the "young guns" of the West and show how we as a society tend to glorify violence. We do. Pointing out that many of these famous gunslingers of the past were children when they began their killing spree was not to sensationalize.
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Comment 29 of 30 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Jonathan Kellerman, best known for his psychological fiction is actually a highly qualified child psychologist.
In the non-fiction examination of Violence in Children or "Savage Spawn" as Kellerman titles his work, readers are offered a no nonsense overview of some of the salient issues at play when discussing the contribuors to childhood violence.
Having worked with Juvenile Delinquent Adolescents in a residential treatment center for five years of my career, I feel that I have some good insights into the issues Kellerman addresses. Kellerman is appropriately realistic in the need to acknowledge that there is no causation that can be attributed to only nature or only nurture in the causation of male childhood violence. He believes, and I agree, that we have to factor both of these causative contributors together in order to get some insight into violence in kids.
I am reluctant to be particularly ready to dismiss the psychiatric role in the prevention and treatment of violence through the treatment of faulty neurotransmitters in the brain. The reality is that millions of people have been helped by the new class of drugs known as SSRI's. Further, Jonathan Kellerman's truly subjective bias against the psychiatric profession on a wholesale scale is somewhat inappropriate on a professional level and actually inaccurate when dismissed completely in the extent in which Kellerman takes his argument.
Interestingly or perhaps more ironically, Kellerman is an obvious supporter of treatment of kids with the drug Ritalin -- a psychiatric drug -- which is particularly controversial, certainly overprescribed and questionably effective in a large majority of cases of children under its influence.
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