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This book is the first serious study of the history of criminal homicide in America, reaching from precolonial times to the age of the O. J. Simpson trial. Noted historian Roger Lane provides this much-needed overview of the history of murder and our culture's responses to it. Lane demonstrates that the study of murder can provide important clues about the way society actually works, its fears and tensions, its concept of justice, and the value it places on different kinds of human life. Roger Lane simply asks the same questions of the past that we ask of the present: What causes murder rates to go up or down? How efficiently or fairly has the justice system worked in dealing with homicide? What are or have been the roles of economic difference and family structure, of the courts and the media, of the Wild West and the urban Industrial Revolution, of Indian warfare and African-American slavery? But if the questions are familiar, Lane shows us that the answers cannot be fitted neatly into boxes we now label either "liberal" or "conservative." They will surprise most readers.
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Lane is the Benjamin R. Collins Professor of Social Science at Haverford College.From Kirkus Reviews:
A survey of murder in America from colonial times until the present. Lane (Social Science/Haverford Coll.) begins his study in medieval England, hardly a peaceful age: The murder rate is estimated to have been about 20 per 100,000 people, which is double the current rate in the US. Murder then was largely an act perpetrated by men, working in pairs, robbing others of low caste. Punishment was harsh and public. When the English began to emigrate to America in large numbers, they brought with them the punitive laws that had been in place for centuries in their homeland, but they also brought old traditions of violence. While the murder rate was, at first, quite low in America's scattered settlements, the country's expansion was soon mirrored by a growing trend toward violence--and toward a new kind of violence. Murders began crossing class boundaries. In addition, the climate of violence was fueled by slaveowners, who could kill slaves with impunity for ``corrective'' purposes, and by the murder of Indians, which went largely unchecked. Lane paints a fascinating and frightening picture of America as it lurched its way to the 20th century. He hypothesizes that as the nation began its recovery from the Civil War and leapt into industrialization, the quick pace of social change led inevitably to an increased murder rate. Its antiquated code of honor clashing with life after slavery, the South was a hotbed of homicide, with white-on-white killings reaching the astounding rate of 30 per 100,000 in some counties; lynchings were common and public. Violence at present, Lane reports, is by contrast committed by individuals and often centers on the family. Lane also briefly discusses the dawn of the serial killer and explores why the suicide rate increase when the murder rate decreases. A vivid portrait of the long history of American homicide, thoroughly researched and of interest to both the academic and general reader. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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