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Created: May 9, 2001
Latest update: May 11, 2001

A Study of Violence

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist

by Richard Rhodes

Review and Teaching Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, May 2001. Fair use "encouraged."

This essay is based on Richard Rhodes' Why They Kill. Vintage Books, Division of Random House, 1999. ISBN: 0-375-70248-2

This text tells the story of Lonnie Athens, a criminologist who grew up in a violent world. Our first encounter with the text will be Chapter 6, "Beautiful Narrative," which will bring to mind all the debates of modernist/ postmodernist sociological theory, and all the debates of quantitative/qualitative theory.

As was the case with Darkness in Eldorado, Patrick Tierney's story of the Yanomami in Brazil, journalists have a vital role to play in the communication of our knowledge. The sociologist is a scientist investigating plausible theories and policies, and capitivated by seeking solutions to the questions we cannot yet answer. But the journalist sees and focuses on the need for all of us to understand, in English that leaves aside professional jargon, the discoveries our scientists are making, the ethical questions they face, the practical political and social consequences of our academic work.

Reading Why They Kill does not mean that you won't also need to read Lonnie Athens' work if you are interested in this field. But Rhodes' introduction to that work may have a lasting effect on drawing you into the mysteries of violence. Rhodes' work is also one that you can share with many others, who don't plan to pursue this area professionally.