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Crime & Human Nature: The Definitive Study of the Causes of Crime [Paperback]

James Q. Wilson , Richard J. Herrnstein
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 644 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (1 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684852667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684852669
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 16 x 3.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 895,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Assembling the latest evidence from the fields of sociology, criminology, economics, medicine, biology, and psychology and exploring the effects of such factors as gender, age, race, and family, two eminent social scientists frame a groundbreaking theoryof criminal behavior. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Predatory street crimes are most commonly committed by young males. Read the first page
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sad reductionism but nonethless interesting.. 16 Aug 2011
By Elvio
Format:Paperback
A classical reading, no doubt.. but sad to see reductionist, Lombrosian - like, one-sided arguments about crime being located entirely on an individual's biology, anatomy and so on, at the expense of a neglect of Social factors, constructions of crime and criminality and so on. The authors define what sorts of crime they are hypothesising about - 'universal crimes', (rape, murder, theft, etc), but their arguments are hugely prejudiced in their assumptions and starting points as to who, which groups, which individuals committ them.. No mentioned of crimes of the powerful, the criminality of the states, crimes against humanity, notions and comparisons of harm, and so on, or how the principles assumedly 'discovered' in this book apply to such other "univeral crimes".. This is a book that is interesting to 'witness' for yourself but definately not the 'truth' or the expected revelation about the 'causes of crime', but this is why there are better books out there..more persuavise and better informed versions of the truth ... Try Bowling & Phillips's (2002)Racism, Crime and Justice ;)
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Important Breakthrough in Understanding Crime 6 May 2000
By Eric Gartman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When Wilson and Herrnstein's "Crime and Human Nature" first appeared in 1985, it caused a major debate. American sociologists had generally ascribed crime to environmental factors, particularly poverty. Wilson and Herrnstein proposed that constitutional factors, coupled with poor parenting, were really the causes of crime. It was the first major examination of such factors since the early days of criminology. The authors proposed that the following constitutional factors predisposed an individual to crime:
1) Mesomorphic body type: There are three body types and mesomorphs are described as heavily built, either muscular or fat, and shorter than average. The authors don't even attempt to explain why this would predispose an individual to crime. But the statistics they use to back up this claim can't really be denied. Criminals are overwhelmingly mesomorphs with a slight emphasis to endomorphism (roundness) rather than ectomorphism (lean build). Stereotypes of criminals back up this claim: Think of the way famous mafiosos are built: John Gotti, Sammy Gravano, Tony Soprano, etc. Realizing that they can't explain why this affects crime, the authors simply state that it shows that constitutional factors matter; The other biological factors they describe are more straightforward.
2) Age: Criminals are predominantly young. Crime peaks from ages 16-25 and begins to descend downwards from thereon, although violent crime peaks from ages 24-28. Unlike body type, the authors seem to think they know why age causes crime, offering several possibilities. Young people have shorter time horizons, and are more interested in immediate gratification. Young people are less well off financially, have less dependents and so on. Few people would dispute age as a major factor in crime.
3) Sex: Men commit far more crimes than women, although the figures aren't completely clear as to how much more. An estimation of 90 percent seems likely. The question is why? Obviously men are more aggressive than women, but why do women commit crimes? The authors state that women commit crimes for the same reasons as men. As for why, all they can say is that for reasons both nature and nurture, men have different sex roles than women, and these affect crime.
4) Intelligence: Low intelligence, particularly the verbal component, seems to have a major impact on the criminal individual. The reasons are that those with low intelligence discount future events as being too far off to matter. They try and live for the moment. They may also be less able to grasp moral concepts.
5) Personality: Criminals differ on personality in nearly every study done on them. Criminals tend to be more aggressive, unafraid, assertive, impulsive and extroverted than others. They are also poorly socialized, meaning they display little regards for others feelings.
The authors are quick to note that constitutional factors are not only hereditary. They may also be affected by poor pre-natel care. Thus the genes alone don't dictate criminal behavior, but they do predispose an individual to crime. If those traits are reinforced by certain environmental factors, then criminal behavior may result.
By far the most important developmental factor, according to the authors, is parental style. Inconsistent and random discipline prevents a child from knowing when to expect punishment. The rules are not made clear, and the child never internalizes them. Furthermore, a cold parent does not produce the necessary attachment with their child that is important in later development. The child never develops a desire to please the parent or obey the rules. This pattern continues into adulthood. As far as developmental and environmental factors go, this is really the only one the authors point to as having a major impact. Indeed, they spend the next few chapters explaining why other factors don't matter, including schools, neighborhoods, labor markets, and television violence. Delinquents are likely to flock together in the schoolyard: A few rotten boys don't spoil the others. Certain kinds of neighborhoods attract certain kinds of people, and they point to an ecological fallacy: Ascribing the characteristics of an individual to the group where he lives. Labor markets only marginally affect crime, and the reasons are not entire clear yet. One environmental factor they do point to are durgs, specifically alcohol and heroin (the book came out before the crack epidemic broke in 1985, or surely crack would been included). These alter a persons time horizons and lead to impulsive behavior, as well as the need for money to support the habit. It is not clear how constitutional factors affect people in predisposing them to use drugs though. Perhaps they share some of the above constitutional traits.
After setting forth their model of criminal behavior as a choice that people make based on biological factors coupled with inadequate parenting, it seems only logical to expect policy suggestions on how to reduce crime. But they offer few. One reason is that since the book was both controversial and revolutionary, they were first interested in seeing their theory of criminal behavior become accepted. Since being written, it has indeed gained widespread acceptance, although it doesn't explain white-collar crime, and doesn't seem to explain organized crime either. The authors would counter that organized crime results from the same factors that they lay out in their general model. And it seems a valid point in explaining organized crime, who's members share many characteristics with petty criminals.
What is missing from the book is causation. After establishing an elegant an encompassing theory of crime which looks at both biological and environmental factors, the authors need to fill in the blanks. Most notably, why do mesomorphs show more criminal tendencies? And why do some men become criminals, while most don't? And how does one explain why women commit crimes? There is something notably missing here: How does one explain aggression, and the link between muscularity and aggressiveness?
Since 1985 researchers have closed in on the answer. It seems that the male hormone testoserone is responsible for aggression. Men with low testoserone claim to be tired, and unenergetic. After receiving the hormone, they say they feel better. No studies have been, however, to give men with high levels of testoserone more of the hormone for fear of uncontrolled behavior. Nonetheless, the correlation seems clear. It seems that mesomorphs, youths, and men all have higher testoserone than their counterparts. This explains their aggressive behavior. But even those three factors together cannot explain crime. Low intelligence, bad temperament, and poor parenting must also be factored in. A young man with high testoserone and a well adjusted personality will be highly successful. Indeed, society needs energetic young men to fight its wars, fight fires, and police the streets, among other jobs. It is only aggression in tandem with the other factors that is a problem.
Finally, we must address how to reduce crime, based on the model described here. One solution has been eugenics. The neo-Eugenics movement loved this book, using it to claim that crime is genetic, and to reduce crime all we have to do is sterilize criminals. While there is much in this book to support that claim, there will still be individuals born with these genetic traits. And most of all, society finds that solution abhorrent and unethical. I believe there are better ways to deal with criminals. If criminals are aggressive, impulsive, short-sighted young men, one way to deal with them is to slow them down. The tranquilizing effect of drug treatments would slow their impulses, and make them think before they act. No such drug has been introduced, but it seems like one could be not to far in the offing. Treatment programs like those offered by Stanton Samenow which help criminals by making them think about their every action, and what it will lead to in the future, could be done in tandem with drug treatment. By doing these things, along with strict policing, we can reduce crime greatly in our society.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fearless in pursuit of the truth 22 May 2005
By Leonard Maskell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
At a time when PC activists are seeking to destroy the careers of academics who dare to suggest that not all people are created equal, this book is a reminder of what is at stake. "Crime and Human Nature" is a fearless, compelling attempt to get to the heart of a subject that concerns everybody in modern society. The authors present the whole picture, theories, evidence, and controversies, with rigor and clarity. You will not find a better survey of the subject anywhere. The book should also be required reading for anybody who wants to learn how to construct an argument.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not PC, but the truth often isn't 15 Dec 2004
By M. Gupta - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this book for a philosophy class in college. After having done more research, I realized how important this work really is. The prevailing theories and proposed solutions for the crime problem in the U.S. are not represented here. That is mostly likely because the views and statistics found in this book are not politically correct. However, I believe they have much more merit, as they are founded on common sense and realistic strategies.

People reading this book will understand how throwing money at problems is ineffective and wasteful. You will also understand a very basic principle that I believe is greatly misunderstood:

There is no such thing as effective rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a myth.

That isn't to say that people in prison cannot benefit from time, patience, and education. The simple truth is that there is no known effective method for changing people's behavior. And I think the general population has been duped into believing there is.

In any case, give this book a read, and see if it doesn't challenge the way you view the world and the people in it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A study of crime as "agressive, violent, or larcenous behavioer" 3 Sep 2013
By Thomas C., Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many books on criminology bog down in confusion over definitions. The authors, both Harvard professors, describe their work as attempting to explain "not the behavior of 'society' but the behavior of individuals making up a society." Accordingly, it does not split hairs over whether "crime" is merely "any act committed in violation of a law that prohibits it and authorizes punishment for its commitment". They go to the heart of crime, as committed by human beings in a violent manner... "chiefly refer to aggressive, violent, r larcenous behavior; they will be for the most part, about persons who hit, rapport, murder, steal and threaten." In our own time, headlines and police blotters are increasingly filled with violence of extraordinary import and monstrosity. An infant in a stroller is casually shot dead when his mother does not have money to give to a youthful thief. A ten year old boy is thrown off the roof of a Chicago project tower when his mother refuses to pay "protection money" to a resident gang of youthful gangsters. Statistics of violent murder and mayhem in inner cities like Chicago, many by young gangsters with guns in a city that bans guns, puzzles our minds. Things should not go this badly. We look to more responsibility of parents, teachers, communities. And still, violent crime increases. These authors present their findings in a conversational manner, worthy of interesting and spell-binding professors, bent on maintaining the interest of their overburdened students. Their answers are found in a study of human nature, social environment, Factors are considered, from economics to environment, television programming, drugs, and focusing on the young age group of immature and highly emotional younger people who commit most of the violent crimes. How did they get that way? Where did we go wrong? What can be done about it? This book explores and provides answers to those questions. It is a kind of textbook, but is written for people who just want a book they can sit down and read, and absorb the myriad complexities of trying to examine the fragmented puzzle of human behavior. It is friendly and well-written, by people who make their living developing and sharing knowledge, and projecting the fascinating part of behavioral research. It is full of surprises, and interesting observations that you can put in your pocket. I recommend it to anyone interested in Crime in America, and definitely for anyone entering law enforcement as a profession. Criminology is a lifetime study. I turned to Amazon for the widest selection of books on he subject. This is one of the best, and the most readable. It not only studies the problem but reaches conclusions, which then become very handy one-liners that key the book for lecture notes and further study.
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