Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist” as Want to Read:
Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  276 ratings  ·  32 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
...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 10th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Why They Kill, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Why They Kill

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 738)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Kim
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
...more
Gary
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
...more
Patrick
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
Meera
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
Ken
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
Ellis Amdur
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
Lindsay
Oct 15, 2008 Lindsay rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lindsay by: my sister
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joan Kite
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
...more
Jeremy
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
...more
James
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
Kinga
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
...more
Heather
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
...more
Stephanie
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.
wendy
Sep 19, 2011 wendy rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Kim
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!
Michael Flanagan
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.
Vanessa Baldwin
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.
Melia
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.
Terri
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.
Rachel Myers
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...
Brendan Detzner
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.
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.
Pattrice
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.
Becky Pierce
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.
Kate
Investigation of a set of psychological parameters that enable people to develop the ability to kill (people). Rhodes is a fascinating non-fiction writer.
Michelle
Still plugging along through. It certainly isn't a light read! Interesting, but maybe a bit too deep for the avg Joe, unfamiliar with the study of criminology.
Ms.
mutlti focus narrative on one of america's premiere criminologists, his motivations, the success of his theory and criminology in general.
William
I enjoy Rhodes works but this one was not my cup of tea; no particular interest in this topic on my part.
Annene
He's good at picking topics but oh lordy, what a drag of a read. I simply couldn't finish.
Laura
True crime meets biography meets sociological study. Engrossing.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 24 25 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Lethal Intent
  • Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic
  • Inside the Criminal Mind
  • Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers
  • Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed
  • No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
  • The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals
  • Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill
  • Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon
  • The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill
  • Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness
  • Serial Murderers and their Victims (Wadsworth Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice)
  • Dark Dreams: A Legendary FBI Profiler Examines  Homicide and the Criminal Mind
  • Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • I: The Creation of a Serial Killer
  • The Anatomy of Evil
  • The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood's Journey into the Minds of Serial Killers
  • Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil
10263
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
More about Richard Rhodes...
The Making of the Atomic Bomb Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague

Share This Book