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Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist
Synopses & Reviews
Why do some men, women and even children assault, batter, rape, mutilate and murder? In his stunning new book, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes provides a startling and persuasive answer.
Why They Killexplores the discoveries of a maverick American criminologist, Dr. Lonnie Athens — himself the child of a violent family — which challenge conventional theories about violent behavior. By interviewing violent criminals in prison, Dr. Athens has identified a pattern of social development common to all seriously violent people — a four-stage process he calls "violentization":
-- First, brutalization: A young person is forced by violence or the threat of violence to submit to an aggressive authority figure; he witnesses the violent subjugation of intimates, and the authority figure coaches him to use violence to settle disputes.
-- Second, belligerency: The dispirited subject, determined to prevent his further violent subjugation, heeds his coach and resolves to resort to violence.
-- Third, violent performances: His violent response to provocation succeeds, and he reads respect and fear in the eyes of others.
-- Fourth, virulency: Exultant, he determines from now on to utilize serious violence as a means of dealing with people — and he bonds with others who believe as he does.
Since all four stages must be fully experienced in sequence and completed to produce a violent individual, we see how intervening to interrupt the process can prevent a tragic outcome.
Rhodes supports Athens's theory with historical evidence and shows how it explains such violent careers as those of Perry Smith (the killer central to Truman Capote's narrative In Cold Blood), Mike Tyson, "preppy rapist" Alex Kelly, and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Why They Kill challenges with devastating evidence the theory that violent behavior is impulsive, unconsciously motivated and predetermined. It offers compelling insights into the terrible, ongoing dilemma of criminal violence that plagues families, neighborhoods, cities and schools.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 343-350) and index.
About the Author
Richard Rhodes is the author of seventeen books, including novels and works of history, journalism, and letters. His The Making of the Atomic Bomb won a Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dark Sun, about the development of the hydrogen bomb, was one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize in History. A father and grandfather, he lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, Ginger Rhodes.
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