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Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  360 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
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 crimi
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 10th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Sep 22, 2011 Kim rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011booksread
I've just finished reading the book, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist by Richard Rhodes. It's the most thought-provoking book I've read in a long time, but it's also one of the most frustrating.

First of all, to clarify what it is. Richard Rhodes is a professional writer who came across the work of a criminologist named Lonnie Athens. So this book is written by a writer and not a sociologist. Mr. Athens has published several books on his own. This book charts both Athen
Jul 15, 2012 Gary rated it it was amazing
I bought this book originally because, as a wannabe writer trying to make my villains more believable, I thought it would help me understand...well, why they kill. What pushes a person to take another person's life.

What I learned is that all the clichés in books, movies, and TV shows are very wrong. You know the ones. He was born bad. She was a bad seed. He couldn't help it, something just made him kill all those people. She's not responsible for her actions.

Rhodes' explains Athens' theories tha
Jun 08, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Richard Rhodes may be my favorite non-fiction writer, due to very interesting books like this one. This book reveals to the reader the work of Lonnie Athens, who came up with, seemingly important theory regarding violent criminals and why people commit violent crimes. What Athens dose is to debunk current psychological theory in that people lose their reason, or suffer from mental illness which explains the root of violent crime. No, Athens suggests, I think rightly so that violence is usually d ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Ken rated it it was amazing
As long as you make sure to skip the last couple chapters, where Rhodes firmly elbows in with his own rhetoric in an embarrassing attempt to revise the theories of the subject of his book, this is an excellent portrait of an unknown genius. Lonnie Athens will completely renovate and enlighten your perceptions of violent criminality, the prison system, and the root causes of violence in our society. I'd consider Athens's theories required reading for anyone who thinks they have an opinion about w ...more
Meera E  Joseph
Athens is unarguably a revolutionary of criminology, providing structure to a subjective and spineless field. His theory of violentization explains trauma and the creation of violent actors in depth. Through ancient times, in war, in more violently inclined indigenous populations, his theory is proved again and again through Richard Rhodes's own findings. Frequently I found myself looking at my own life in a different light. That he did not achieve the acclamation he deserved is a shame and an i ...more
Nate Hendrix
Jan 01, 2017 Nate Hendrix rated it it was ok
Some parts were very interesting and some parts a just skimmed.
Jul 31, 2012 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
OK, let's get past the title: this book is a summary of the work and career of Lonnie Athens, whose initial studies of the process of violentization led him, in my opinion, to some ideas that are much wider in scope.

Example: Hallucinations are events that exist on a spectrum, including talking to oneself, hearing controlling voices in one's head, remembering the advice of a significant mentor, etc. They are examples of ways we interact with what Richard Rhodes sums up as our phantom community: t
Joan Kite
Apr 19, 2013 Joan Kite rated it really liked it
Killers, mass bombers, arsonists, sadistic rapists, and other heinous violent offenders. We wonder,'What is wrong with these people.?' Are they crazy? Were they born that way?

The answer, according to criminologist Dr. Lonnie Athens, is no. Most people who commit acts of violence learned it through life experience. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes explores Athens's ground-breaking work. His research clearly defines the transformational process of becoming a killer.

Though the book is
Oct 15, 2008 Lindsay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lindsay by: my sister
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 20, 2010 James rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, sociology
Richard Rhodes is one of my favorite authors. I first encountered his work when I read The Making of the Atomic Bomb. His book, Why They Kill, is unique in my experience, in that it is a blend of both biography and sociology. It is the biography of Lonnie Athens who lived a violent life as a youth and later dedicated his life to the investigation of the source of violence in criminals. It is also a presentation of Athens' findings and an examination of the results of applying those findings to c ...more
Oct 17, 2007 Kinga rated it really liked it
This book really got me thinking about the social 'sciences' - and their research methods.
The standard approach to this day is statistical methods/measurements. I love Lonnie Athens for his stubborness - for creating his own path to discovery.
As far as I can tell he is the first person to try to use the scientific method (definitely with some success, I might add) in the social sciences. If this is not true, if there were others - tell me, I beg you. I am truly enthralled by this concept! Also
Ellis Amdur
Jan 15, 2015 Ellis Amdur rated it liked it
Rhodes covers (in far more readable fashion) the work of Lonnie Atkins, a pioneer phenomenologist of criminal behavior. Atkins’ theory is that violence is primarily created through an interaction between a young people and the abusive experiences they witness or suffer – what Atkins calls “violentization.” At first read, it seems to make perfect sense – but there is nothing in Atkins work that explains why one violent person rapes and another gets in violent fights. In my opinion, Atkins' establ ...more
Dec 05, 2013 Heather rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely intriguing from the very beginning, especially for someone is who very interested in criminal behavior and criminology. The evidence that is presented gives a substantial chunk to chew in, and I would highly recommend this book to those interested. It may be slow or dry for those who are not hardcore interested in the subject, but the results of the information is fascinating to the enthusiasts.

I would like to read Lonnie Athens own works, instead of through another auth
Jun 04, 2016 Beatrice rated it really liked it
Detailed,somwhat scholarly. This book took me a few days to read. I had to read it slowly and sometimes reread difficult to understand passages. Book proposes a new way to understand the development of the mind of a murderer. It is partly a biography of the man who developed the ideas, some historical information on violence and child rearing practices and some debunking of other explanations of the formation of killers.

I have a newer more organized understanding of the subject that I believe wi
A really good read. I would recommend this one to anyone who is trying to understand why some people become violent and dangerous and others do not. Silly moi, I thought the principles in this book were very well-known, but the criminologist -- Lonnie Athens -- who shaped them up into a systematic theory has had years of uphill battle trying to get anyone to acknowledge the obvious. That's academia for you, Lon. We everyday schmoes know you're right, so take heart.
Apr 10, 2013 Kim rated it it was amazing
Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes. Very engrossing and thoroughly researched....changed many of my preconceptions about the origins of violence. Also details how our human ethics are exploited by organizations such as the military. Also highlights how Vets are victims of broken contracts between themselves and the government...and sometimes deliberate sabotage by their own leaders. On my short list of must read books!
Aug 03, 2011 Stephanie rated it liked it
Shelves: violence
The first part describing Athens, the criminologist, and his theory was the slowest. Athens did have an interesting life, but it went on too long. The theories and papers described were not summarized for the layperson. It read very academically, and I found that frustrating.

The middle section was the most interesting. The author looked at records of historically violent people and applied Athens theory to them.

Overall I liked it, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it strongly.
Sep 19, 2011 wendy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in violent criminals
fantastic biography of an amazing man: lonnie athens. he talked his way into the pen and interviewed 100s of violent criminals, men and women. His theory of violentization makes perfect sense and should be looked at by any educator, social worker, warden or any human being as a rule-book of how to make a violent human. As a society, we can see the "line in the sand" and help those before they cross it. Nice extra is Mr Athens theory on self-shattering experiences.
Michael Flanagan
Nov 07, 2011 Michael Flanagan rated it liked it
Shelves: true-crime
Working in corrections I found this book I real interesting read. It looks at how people become "vilonetized" and Lonnie Athens life long research to discover this. The book for the most part is an excellent read but for me it did seem to wonder a little bit. All in all when I finished reading this book I felt like I had learned a bit more about the mechanics of violent behavior.
Oct 10, 2008 Melia rated it liked it
Very disappointing - Rhodes even goes so far as to attempt to disprove Dorothy Lewis and Jonathon Pincus which, in my book is abomination! He does discuss Dr. Lonnie H. Athens's thoeries and some does make sense completely but I will still argue that it is a combination of explanations together that culminate into a killer.
Rachel Myers
May 14, 2009 Rachel Myers rated it it was amazing
Not the sort of topic I usually take on...but the discussion of sociology as a subject, the mind, criminology and rehabilitation, and Lonnie Athens's life were fascinating. I'm definitely going to read Rhodes's other books. The Making of the Atomic Bomb has been on my real-world shelf for quite a while...
Vanessa Baldwin
Aug 08, 2007 Vanessa Baldwin rated it it was amazing
another un-romaticized view of violent criminals. Introduces the concept of "Violentization", a developmental process that people go thru. How a person gets from victimized child to violent offender. VERY insightful. Uses Mike Tyson, Lee Harvey Oswald and others as examples. I'd recommend it to anyone who teaches in public schools, also.
Mar 02, 2008 Terri rated it it was amazing
This book was a real eye opener for me - regarding my own brush with violence in my early childhood and my close call with crossing the line into violent actor. Now I'm involved in peacework centered on nonviolence and this book gave me the insight to hold these violent members of our human community with compassion.
Jake Berlin
a brilliant and eye-opening look at why people act violently that tackles much larger issues of how experience shapes people. a book that will likely forever change the way that i look at people and their behavior.
May 25, 2008 pattrice rated it it was ok
A well-written and comprehensible survey of the findings and theories of Lonnie Athens (and of the sociological theories of which Athens approves) but shockingly biased and thereby misleading about competing theories.
Brendan Detzner
May 20, 2008 Brendan Detzner rated it it was amazing
Revelatory. Explains lots of things more clearly and more convincingly then I've ever seen them explained, especially the reasons women are less likely to become violent criminals and the relationship between violent coaching in the military and elsewhere. Loved it to death.
don't exactly know how to rate this one. was not an easy read. definitely heavy for someone who knows nothing about criminology. as I did not finish the book bc it was too tedious I felt that I shouldn't rate this book.
Apr 09, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing
Investigation of a set of psychological parameters that enable people to develop the ability to kill (people). Rhodes is a fascinating non-fiction writer.
Becky Pierce
Aug 10, 2012 Becky Pierce rated it it was ok
As much as I respect the topic, I simply felt the book dragged on a bit. It was a little too slow for me. But, for anyone interested in studying Criminology, it's worth powering through.
Nov 29, 2009 Ms. rated it it was amazing
mutlti focus narrative on one of america's premiere criminologists, his motivations, the success of his theory and criminology in general.
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more
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