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"No matter where American men and women live in the United States, their risk of being murdered is higher than it is in any other first-world democracy. Why is this so? Scholars commonly attribute murder to a variety of proximate causes: race, ethnicity, poverty, lax gun laws, drugs, region, and neighborhood. Ordinary Americans often blame poor immigrants, blacks, "hot-blooded" Latinos, drunken Irishmen, and Italian mobsters." There may be some truth to some of these generalizations, but they obscure the most important facts about murder, and they don't hold true over time. In American Homicide, Randolph Roth charts changes in the character and incidence of homicide in the U.S. from colonial times to the present.
American Homicide offers a vast investigation of murder, in the aggregate, and over time. Roth's argument is profoundly unsettling...As a discussion of the available data, American Homicide is rich, fascinating, and unrivalled.
— Jill Lepore
In American Homicide, Randolph Roth traces the history of our murdering ways through the lens of our feelings about those in power...Roth argues that how we see ourselves in relation to our government—fringe movement or ruling party, patronized or disenfranchised—is at the heart of many decisions to take another life...If an individual feels secure in his social standing, it's easier to get over life's disappointments. But for a person who feels alienated from the American Dream, the tiniest offense can provoke a murderous rage... Looking at the fluctuating homicide rate at various times in our history, Roth tracks the historical consequences of shifting power. After the Revolutionary War, murder rates soared as the newly formed U.S. struggled to absorb British loyalists. The end of the Civil War didn't relieve the bitterness many Southerners felt toward the government and it shows in the precipitous rise in homicides in the rural South. On a positive note, Roth credits FDR for falling murder rates in the 1930s as Roosevelt's New Deal "increased Americans' faith in the country, their leadership, and one another."...Roth's book also offers a warning about our volatile political rhetoric. Words can have real-life, even violent, consequences. American Homicide is a vivid reminder that politics isn't just about winning–it's also about how you treat those who lose.
— Raina Kelley
A groundbreaking book...that offers something like a unified theory of why Americans kill each other at such a high rate and what can be done about it.
— Gregory Rodriguez
American Homicide by Randolph Roth is a wonky, meticulously researched, fascinating survey of murder in America and why we've become the bloodiest wealthy nation on earth. Roth begins in the colonial period, then walks us through American history as he documents, analyzes, and hypothesizes about the evolving reasons why, how, and how often we kill one another. He looks at regional and chronological variances in the homicide rate, as well the differences between murders where killer and victim know one another versus when the two are strangers. Roth concludes from his research that four factors contribute to fluctuations in the murder rate in America: political instability; loss of government legitimacy; loss of a feeling of belonging among outcast or historically oppressed groups; and loss of faith in the social hierarchy. Crudely summarized, when Americans believe we're being governed wisely, fairly, equally, and legitimately, we're peaceful and productive. But when government misbehaves, the citizenry does too.
— Radley Balko
In American Homicide, Randolph Roth offers an intriguing hypothesis to explain the country's homicide rates: Murder isn't personal; it's political. Drawing on the work of criminologist Gary LaFree, who argues that, in the 20th century, the crime rate increased when people reported greater distrust in government and other social institutions, Roth looks back through American history and locates a similar force at work over the previous century-and-a-half. According to Roth, homicide rates among unrelated adults are not determined by proximate causes such as poverty, drugs, unemployment, alcohol, race, or ethnicity. Nor are they influenced by stricter prison sentences or other tough-on-crime measures...With few exceptions during the 20th century, ours has remained the most murderous democracy in the world...In the end, whether or not we embrace Roth's thesis as definitive, his provocative and wide-ranging history persuasively argues for the benefits of a less divisive and polarized political culture. After all, if Roth is right, it just might be killing us.
— Christine Rosen
[A] magisterial analysis of the history of homicide in America...The heart of Roth's concern is to explain both the historical fluctuations that he so meticulously charts, and America's comparative exceptionalism in regard to murder. He stresses the enormous gulf in U.S. homicide rates compared with other affluent democracies...His book is a major achievement in charting the long-term patterns in American homicide, and broadly relating them to variations in political economy and culture.
— Robert Reiner
List of Figures
1 "Cuttinge One Anothers Throates": Homicide in Early Modern Europe and America 27
2 "All Hanging Together": The Decline of Homicide in the Colonial Period 61
3 Family and Intimate Homicide in the First Two Centuries 108
4 "A Sense of Their Rights": Homicide in the Age of Revolution 145
5 The Emergence of Regional Differences: Homicide in the Postrevolutionary Period 180
6 The Rise in Family and Intimate Homicide in the Nineteenth Century 250
7 "All Is Confusion, Excitement and Distrust": America Becomes a Homicidal Nation 297
8 The Modern Pattern Is Set: Homicide from the End of Reconstruction to World War I 386
9 The Problem Endures: Homicide from World War I to the Present 435
Conclusion: Can America's Homicide Problem Be Solved? 469