WHY THEY KILL

THE DISCOVERIES OF A MAVERICK CRIMINOLOGIST

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40249-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1999

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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