Review: Inside the Criminal Mind

Remember when I said that I’ll never review nonfiction? Well, I kinda lied. Not in a bad way, though. I read NF all the time, I just prefer not to write about it here.

This book is different. I had to read it for a class I’m taking on social deviance, so therefore the ‘review’ was already there. I had to type it last night, so I’m sharing it here.

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Review for ‘Inside the Criminal Mind’ by Dr. Stanton Samenow (2004)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I read this for a doctoral level class I’m taking in Social Deviance. I wish I hadn’t though. In this book, Dr. Samenow sets out to answer the age-old question of why criminals commit crimes and spends 50,000 words (or how ever long this book is) answering, simply, “well, because they choose to.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the one to coddle or play hug-a-thug either with the big bad wolves of society. I did agree with some of the points he makes here. Samenow says that criminals are usually narcissistic, selfish people who feel entitled to the finer things in life (agreed) and feel that they shouldn’t have to work for them (agreed). Their need for power and validation feeds into their desire to victimize others in whatever way they can–fraud, sexual assault, robbery, etc (agreed). Work places, schools, family units, and other social institutions are where they hone their con game, and if and when they’re caught and locked up, they’ll hopefully change their thinking (agree). Samenow is adamant that prisons, rehabs, reading programs, and career counseling will not change the criminal because of how he thinks. He scoffs at sociologists who point to indicators such as poor schooling, drug abuse, lack of job opportunities, mental illness, poverty, and other factors as the reasons why people turn to crime.

And I understand this, I really do. But how can Dr. Samenow completely dismiss these sociological viewpoints? Most of the case studies of criminals he gives in this book are of middle class men he has interviewed–men who came from the so-called ‘normal’ two-parent homes, whose folks more than likely had the resources for therapy, and, who despite all of their efforts, still went on to choose a life of crime regardless. One cannot help but to notice the lack of socioeconomic diversity in this book, which, I’m sad to report, makes this book terribly biased. While I am not saying that all poor people are criminals (nor are all criminals poor), one cannot deny the effects of poverty and class stratification on a large number of the people in our criminal justice system. Poverty itself does not cause crime, but it definitely leads to the illusion that illegal means are necessary to achieve prosperity.

Another jarring problem with this book is how Dr. Samenow talks about criminals as one homogeneous group. We know that a woman who is addicted to crack cocaine and sells her body for profit and a Jeffrey Dahmer-like sex predator/murderer are both criminals according to the law, but are they really in the same category of deviance? According to Dr. Samenow, there isn’t much of a difference between a weekend ecstasy user and John Wayne Gacy. He also disregards ‘addiction as a disease’ pathology and with it, pretty much everything that’s been written in the field of human psychology for the past 25 years. As a psychologist, you would think he wants to understand what really drives people to do what they do beyond the most obvious, the motivator of choice.

I got almost zero information from this book. I imagine that this book is hot with prosecutors and other right-wingers who want to ‘get tough’ on crime by locking up people doing everything from robbing a bank to stealing a chicken. It doesn’t make it correct though. Not in the least.

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To Whom it May Concern

Before I go any further, let me remind you all: I don’t review nonfiction on this site. I mention this on my review request page.

Yet, strangely, I get a lot requests to review biographies and memoirs. Don’t get me wrong, I do read bios, memoirs, books on public policy, books on social issues. As a matter of fact, I read them quite often. The reason why I avoid reviewing them here though is simple: I don’t like writing about nonfiction. Call it personal preference, being picky, whatever…but it’s important for me to keep this site enjoyable. The moment that I find myself taking on certain books and reviewing them out of obligation, habit, or a need to keep myself busy is the day that I probably should be shutting this site down, you know?

I don’t take money for reviews. I do this for the love of the written word. The bottom line is this: the books that you see reviewed here (even if I hated them) are books that I chose to review, upon my own free will. Book review requests that I receive in my inbox that I review here will always be books that I choose to review, upon my own free will. I wouldn’t want it any other way. A book author who writes their heart out in a labor of love wouldn’t want it any other way either.

Had to get that off my chest. Ya’ll carry on.

Love, Kellan

Review: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked

Hey there, folks!!

The semester is kicking my arse. I’ve been reading though. I’ll be back with my feature on Monday. Till then…

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Review for “Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked” by James Lasdun (2013)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This book is so bad it’s laughable.

Being the curious person I am, the title drew me in. Stalking has always been a subject that’s received considerable attention, so I read it.

Man, I am SORRY I read this.

It’s supposed to be a true story. Sadly, I don’t believe much of it.

Mr. Lasdun is a creative writing professor at some college in NYC when he meets Nasreen, an Iranian student in his class who he believes shows talent in her writing. She asks him to look over her manuscript, and after several refusals, he eventually agrees to, as well as introduce her to his agent. Around this time they begin (in his words, of course) a “friendly” correspondence through email. At some point, Mr. Lasdun feels their conversation has gone too far and he reminds her he is happily married. This is the point where, according to him, all hell breaks loose. Nasreen begins a complicated campaign of online harassment, spreading accusations of plagiarism and rape among his colleagues, threatening him and his family, making anti-Semitic statements, etc.

But all that’s not my beef with this book. Although I do not feel like Lasdun is being completely honest (I do believe a little more happened between him and this student that he is not telling us), that’s not why this book got 1 star from me. You see, I don’t care about the drama. On page 30 I wondered aloud why this so-called ‘intelligent’ man didn’t just change his email and move the hell on with his life. It’s the execution of the story that fails miserably here. Mr. Lasdun tells you the stalking story, along with pages upon pages on extraneous information: musings on architecture, the writings of D.H. Lawrence, a 37 page train ride that had ZERO to do with the story. Oh God, and the last 55 pages of this had almost nothing to do with anything at all, the content is so far afield it’s almost like another book entirely.

I almost DNF’d this sucker had it not been for my extraordinary power of skimming to get to the end.

Don’t read this book. If you do decide to take the plunge, for God’s sake, don’t buy it. Get it from the library. Stand in Barnes and Noble and sip a latte and skim it. Read parts 1 and 3, skip 2 and 4. You’ll have the whole story right there. Guaranteed.