- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 14, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375402497
- ISBN-13: 978-0375402494
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist 1st Edition
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In Why They Kill, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes traces the life and career of criminologist Lonnie Athens, a man who took his own sad and squalid life and turned it on its head to make a groundbreaking career as a criminologist. Athens grew up in a violent, angry world. Rather than absorbing the sickness and violence around him, though, he studied it, and eventually developed a theory about how violent criminals are created. Rhodes's critical examination of Athens's work forces readers to consider how violent our society really is, how it became that way, and what might be done to change it. When applied to well-known criminals such as Michael Tyson and Lee Harvey Oswald, Athens's ideas become concrete and take on an urgent tone: it's easy to discuss theories and predictors in the abstract, but these stories are real, and they repeat themselves in our society at an alarming rate. Rhodes's approach to this disturbing subject stands apart from many other crime books in its intelligence, humanity, and empathy. These are not just descriptions of "scumbags" and their brutal crimes, but intensely personal stories that reveal how a culture of violence propagates itself. --Lisa Higgins
From Publishers Weekly
What transforms an ordinary person into a violent criminal? Not genetic inheritance or low self-esteem or coming from a violent subculture, answers Pulitzer PrizeAwinning author Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, etc.), but rather a process of brutalization by parents or peers that usually occurs in childhood. In this provocative study, Rhodes focuses on the work of criminologist Lonnie Athens, who teaches at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Athens believes that violent crime results from "social retardation," a process whereby an individual who was abused in childhood guides his or her actions by recourse to a "phantom community" of the internalized voices of caregivers and others. Rhodes tests Athens's theory against specific cases, including those of boxer and convicted rapist Mike Tyson; Cheryl Crane, daughter of actress Lana Turner, who at age 14 stabbed to death her mother's lover; and Lee Harvey Oswald. The author champions Athens as a pioneering genius battling a criminological establishment that ascribes violent crime to psychopathology or antecedent social conditions; yet he overestimates the originality of Athens's work (the "phantom community" in some ways resembles Freud's superego), and his well-intentioned study is at times belabored. Both Rhodes and Athens suffered through horrifically abusive childhoods, which adds a compelling personal note to this study but may also color their views. Rhodes strongly endorses Athens's call for school-based prevention programs to break the cycle of domestic and societal violence. Agents, Morton Janklow and Anne Sibbald, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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As far as the criticism that Athens ignores brain damage/abnormal neurology as a contributing factor, it is pointed out in the book that half of a group of violent criminals that were given eegs showed significant abnormalities while only 20 per cent of the nonviolent criminals did. However, as Rhodes points out, since battering is usually a part of violentization, this can very easily be a symptom and not a cause of violence. And, of course, it doesn't account for nonviolent people who also have unusual brainwave patterns. But sociobiologists are always looking for physical reasons for actions so they would naturally be antipathetic to Dr. Athens' ideas.
I spent a lot of time saying, "AHA, so that's what's going on!!" as I read this book. I now feel that I finally have some understanding about what makes violent people tick. And forewarned is forearmed. By describing the intellectual and emotional reactions that set violent people off, this book helps the reader understand how to defuse potentially physical confrontations.
If you only read one book on criminality, let it be this one. It will explain more than a half-dozen others put together.