From Publishers Weekly
"Violence reveals the tragic flaw of civilization," says the director of the Center for the Study of Violence at the Harvard Medical School in this important work. He advances the thesis that violence is a problem in public health and social psychiatry; it is not caused by so-called evil people but by individuals who have suffered what he terms "the death of the self" as the result of shame and humiliation, whether economically, socially or psychically induced. Rejecting notions that violence is instinctual, hereditary or caused by drugs and alcohol, he argues that socially determined gender roles, a result of our patriarchal society, play a major part in its genesis. As the former director of a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane, Gilligan excoriates our present prison system, calling it "the crime of punishment" because it only increases the shame and humiliation of those incarcerated, thus insuring their recidivism when they are released. This work could provoke a rethinking of our attitudes toward violence in our society. First serial to Atlantic Monthly.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Gilligan (Center for the Study of Violence/Harvard Medical School) zeroes in on the pitch-black emptiness within America's murderers before inexplicably letting his target move out of focus. To stem the contagion of violence, Gilligan believes, America needs to understand both its root causes and the social pathogens that spread it. He points to civilization's patriarchal structure, which entails a code of honor that imposes a crippling burden of shame. When the author confines himself to the murderers he met in the ``underworld,'' or maximum-security prisons (he served as head of mental-health services for the Massachusetts prison system), Gilligan's theories gain strength. For instance, he notes that, despite more shelters for battered women, the proportion of domestic-violence deaths has doubled, because their murderers ``are precisely the men who experience a life-death dependency on their wives and an overwhelming shame because of it.'' He castigates the death penalty not just as cruel but as ineffective, since it feeds a killer's desire for punishment. Moreover, one of his prescriptions--eliminating the illiteracy that fosters many criminals' sense of shame--is practical. However, the effects of Gilligan's subtle studies of killers are lost when he applies his lessons on a broader scale to an America that he says imposes ``structural violence'' on the disadvantaged. Gilligan's call to reform America's socioeconomic structure is less a prescription than a fantasy, and he downplays the fact that most of the lower class never becomes part of the criminal class. This critique has more than a share of the politically correct, as when the author notes that no other nation or culture ``has inflicted more collective violence on its victims than white (or European) Americans have inflicted on both native Americans and African- Americans over the past five centuries.'' A deeply compassionate survey of America's contemporary Desolation Row--but more than one reader will be wishing for a little more tough love. (First serial to Atlantic Monthly) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.