Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist

Paperback Vintage

By (author) Richard Rhodes

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  • Publisher: Vintage Books
  • Format: Paperback | 372 pages
  • Dimensions: 132mm x 201mm x 23mm | 227g
  • Publication date: 10 October 2000
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0375702482
  • ISBN 13: 9780375702488
  • Sales rank: 328,199

Product description

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, brings his inimitable vision, exhaustive research, and mesmerizing prose to this timely book that dissects violence and offers new solutions to the age old problem of why people kill. Lonnie Athens was raised by a brutally domineering father. Defying all odds, Athens became a groundbreaking criminologist who turned his scholar's eye to the problem of why people become violent. After a decade of interviewing several hundred violent convicts--men and women of varied background and ethnicity, he discovered "violentization," the four-stage process by which almost any human being can evolve into someone who will assault, rape, or murder another human being. Why They Kill is a riveting biography of Athens and a judicious critique of his seminal work, as well as an unflinching investigation into the history of violence.

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Author information

Richard Rhodes lives in rural Connecticut.

Review quote

"Irresistible. . . . You find yourself both surprised by some of its conclusions and mesmerized by its narrative." --"The New York Times" "Unsettling, challenging, but never less than fascinating." --"The Seattle Times" "Rhodes should be commended . . . not only for writing another wonderful book, but also for bringing to light the provocative scholarship of Lonnie Athens." -"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" "Certain to be controversial, Why They Kill is an engrossing book on a crucial issue." --"The Kansas City Star"

Editorial reviews

National Book Award and Pulitzer-winning author Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 1987, etc.) offers a passionate assessment of the career of Dr. Lonnie Athens, a cutting-edge criminologist whose overlooked work deciphers the process by which individuals commit themselves to violent action. Unlike most criminologists, Athens grew up intimately acquainted with interpersonal mayhem, both within his family and in the high-crime environment of Richmond, Va. As a Berkeley graduate student, he embarked on the then-radical tactic of interviewing prisoners about their violent crimes and eventually formulated a provocative yet persuasive theory that such actors undergo a four-stage "violentization" process, in which their own childhood brutalization and"horrification" (witnessing violence against others) is augmented by"violence coaching," until the individual instinctually accepts violence as a ready solution to personal conflict. Although Athens published two books on his findings, his academic career foundered for many years. Rhodes thus applies his considerable narrative authority both toward detailed explication of Athens's work and as advocacy. He accomplishes these goals in many ways, ranging from his poignant re-creation of Athens's blasted childhood, to his application of Athens's template to notorious criminals like Lee Harvey Oswald (and Mike Tyson!), and more generally to such phenomena as wartime atrocities and the extreme violence of the medieval era. By utilizing Athens's work as a foundation, Rhodes produces a disturbing and engrossing study of the (seemingly) myriad motivators of contemporary violence; however, his inclusion of sundry third-person scholarship and of such unexpected tangents as the life of Louis XIII tend to dilute the clarity and immediacy which mainstream discussion of social crises inherently demands. That said, Athens's tumultuous life is illuminated and his work comes alive in the context of Rhodes's fine prose and elegant organization. Athens's thesis is both subtle and discomforting (in that he finds the completed "violentization" process to be irreversible); one concurs with the necessity of Rhodes's commitment to introduce it into the often dissonant arenas of contemporary criminology and social theory. (Kirkus Reviews)

Flap copy

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, brings his inimitable vision, exhaustive research, and mesmerizing prose to this timely book that dissects violence and offers new solutions to the age old problem of why people kill. Lonnie Athens was raised by a brutally domineering father. Defying all odds, Athens became a groundbreaking criminologist who turned his scholar's eye to the problem of why people become violent. After a decade of interviewing several hundred violent convicts--men and women of varied background and ethnicity, he discovered "violentization," the four-stage process by which almost any human being can evolve into someone who will assault, rape, or murder another human being. Why They Kill is a riveting biography of Athens and a judicious critique of his seminal work, as well as an unflinching investigation into the history of violence.