Monday, February 25, 2013

Homicide intrigues virtually all of us

As I've said a few times (and is listed over in my little about me blurb) I studied English lit in college. However, I had another subject I think I would have been just as happy studying: sociology. In fact, I almost got a minor in sociology, sorta by accident. My school had a program which lets you put in your ID, select the degree you're going for, and it tells you which classes you have left to take to finish the degree. One day I was plugging in my information to see what came up and it turned out, I was a couple classes away from a sociology minor. I wasn't planning on it, but given I was close to finishing it, I may as well.

That was the plan anyway. Then my friend said "Hey you know what we should do? Study abroad!" Here's the thing about doing a semester abroad. None of the classes I needed for either my English major or my soc minor were offered in Italy. Go figure, right? Which meant that my final year was going to be spent taking the classes I needed to complete my English degree. Yeah, I may have been able to take extra classes and get the soc minor but eh. So I ended up not getting it. Which is kinda sad. But the interest has always been there, specifically sociology around crime.

Our final year boyfriend+ and his bestie took a class called Sociology of Violence, which thinking back now I'm not sure why I didn't also take it cos it sounds like a good time. I didn't take the class, but I did read their class book The Will to Kill: Explaining Senseless Murder by James Alan Fox and Jack Levin. Before they finished it. Because yeah, why not read that along with the books I had to read for all of my classes.

It was because of the Harry Potter readalong that I wanted to re-read this. Well Harry Potter and the fact that I felt like reading some non-fiction and decided to scour the shelves to see what I hadn't read in awhile. But yeah, HP deals with a lot of crimes and whatnot, though in the magical sense, but still.

I'm not really sure how to review this book, because it is sort of a text book. Kinda of. There are lots of charts and stats and references to specific murder cases and sociological experiments. So if that's your jam, this is a good book for it. But it's dry. There's no narrative here. The chapters are split into different types of murder (familiar, school shootings, serial killers, etc), and the laws and penalties around murder.

The book doesn't actually explain senseless murder but really, how can it? It looks at some theories about WHY people commit murder, it can examine the trends (at least in the US) in murder rates, but it doesn't have any definitive answers. If it did offer some, that would be a problem because they would clearly be bullshit.

There are times when the book just seems to offer example after example after example of specific murders that sort of seems like over kill. Two examples would suffice where they use seven. Except, I sort of don't mind this. The examples do build to a bigger point, even if you could get away with using less, but I liked them. Probably because I have problems. There's also a chapter about people's fascination with murder, so don't worry, they cover that too.

I don't know that I'd recommend this to someone as a book to randomly pick up to read about murder. Unless you were interested in looking at murder trends in the US. It's not as approachable as say Freakonomics. Though this book does reference Freakonomics, just as Freakonomics mentioned Fox because everything is connected. It's not as dry as a textbook (and there are no study questions at the end of the chapters) but it's not exactly a lively read. Unless you're into this stuff, in which case keep in mind I read this on top of all of my other school work.

Title quote from page 1

Fox, James Alan and Jack Levin. The Will to Kill: Explaining Senseless Murder. Prentice Hall, 2000.