Book ReviewsSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
Canada, Geoffrey (1995). Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. Boston: Beacon Press. 179 pp. ISBN 0-8070-0422-7.
Canada shares his childhood experiences in the South Bronx to support the theory that violence is learned and not genetically caused and biologically based. He maintains that the socialization of violence can begin as early as four years of age and may continue throughout life if a comprehensive, viable approach to prevention is not in place. To dispel the myth that violence is unique to a particular group of people and specific geographical locations, Canada suggests that violence must first be examined in the context of the history of violence in the world and in this country. He hastens to add that the current wave of violence in inner-city communities has changed dramatically. First, it has moved from fist fights, stick fights, and stabbings as violent methods of choice to 9 millimeter, 44 magnum, .38 caliber as weapons of elimination. The author describes this movement as the emergence of the handgun generation. Second, he associates the proliferation of handguns, ineffective and weak legislation under the guise of a get tough or crime philosophy, and crack cocaine as the major culprits associated with this culture of violence—especially in inner cities. While admitting that there is more concentration of this type of violence in communities heavily populated by people of color, he does not hesitate to point out that middle-class white neighborhoods and suburbs are not excluded from this social ill. Third, and probably most important, he posits that the group most victimized by this trend is children. He concludes that violence is a national crisis that requires a viable, comprehensive approach for its reduction and possible elimination. His approach involves all major aspects of communities and society (e.g., government, economics, family, school, media, and responsible, positive, educated, and altruistic adults).
This book is highly recommended for all persons who have any association with children. The fields of criminology, law, psychology, sociology, social work, and health care will benefit greatly from Canada's insights. The Beacon School developed by Canada and his colleagues adopts a comprehensive approach to violence prevention and violence management. This program, dedicated to character building, prosperity, and the total education of children and others in the community has been widely acclaimed and endorsed by Attorney General Janet Reno. Canada advocates the establishment of Beacon Schools throughout the country as the only viable alternative to curtail the epidemic of violence.
A shortcoming of this book is the exclusion of the religious institution as a major element in violence prevention. The Black church, and religious institutions as a whole, have a played a major and consistent role in the survival of African American communities—and many others as well. Church leaders have advocated non-violence as key to a sane, just, and moral society; any comprehensive program aimed at violence prevention must acknowledge this historical fact. Despite this omission, Fist Stick Knife Gun is a must read for those who believe that the culture of violence is without a normative system, a code of conduct, and a bureaucratic hierarchy.
Hampton, Robert L., Jenkins, Pamela, & Gullotta, Thomas P. (1996). Issues in Children's and Families' Lives, Volume 4: Preventing Violence in America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 344 pp. ISBN 0-7619-0041-1.
This text is the newly published fourth volume in a planned series of five edited books that are designed to focus attention on current social problems facing children and their families. This volume, Preventing Violence in America, addresses the problem of violence in the United States by providing a theoretical overview of violence, exploring population aspects of violence and preventive factors, and offering examples of program models for the reduction of violent behavior in American society. Chapter 1 explores violence in society from a social-historical perspective through excerpts from American literature. Chapters 2 and 3 provide a theoretical overview of violence within families and an examination of links between family violence and violence in the community.
Chapters 4 through 8 explore subjects important to an understanding of population aspects of violence (e.g., violence in communities of color; among children and adolescents) and possible preventive factors (e.g., the characteristics of resiliency, the influence of media, and the inclusion of a "higher-power.") The final five chapters outline programmatic efforts to reduce violent behavior. In Chapter 9, the need for violence to be addressed as a public health concern is discussed and a model educational program in Connecticut is described. In Chapter 10, a collaborative, multi-agency approach to violence in Los Angeles is examined; and in Chapter 11, a public school intervention is described. Chapter 12 explores an ecological model for intervention in early childhood, and Chapter 13 focuses on violence toward girls and women in society and provides a gender-based discussion of the issues.
The editors of Preventing Violence in America have included a combination of work that effectively communicates the complexity of the problem of violence, the need for multidisciplinary attention, and reasonable models for intervention. Because the text provides an up-to-date, comprehensive examination of the history of violence in America, theoretical background, and current program models, it is useful to professionals in social work, education, public health, community development, nursing, psychology, and child development.
Madanes, Cloe (1995). The Violence of Men: A Therapy of Social Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 203 pp. ISBN 0-7879-0117-2.
In The Violence of Men, Madanes continues to develop ideas presented in her earlier book: Sex, Love, and Violence. Madanes and her former co-director Jay Haley have been unique among strategic therapists because of their position that therapists must be agents of change who take clear positions regarding controversial situations. Cloe Madanes describes therapists who are faced every day with decisions about what is morally correct. In this book more than ever, Madanes presents a role for therapists in which they are expected to be in charge of the therapeutic process and responsible for its outcomes.
The therapeutic approach detailed in this volume is one specifically tailored to the family in which abuse has occurred. It shares many characteristics with approaches used in victim-offender mediation; the perpetrator is clearly held responsible for the abuse, and the victim is not required to accept attempts at reparation. But the author includes a powerful emotional theme that is choreographed by the therapist: The offender must apologize on his knees without forgiveness being offered. Family members in turn apologize for not having provided enough protection, and each member commits to specific ways they will ensure that no further abuse will occur. Protectors are enlisted from the immediate and extended family.
This book is directed, first and foremost, at therapists and supervisors who treat families. Though it holds little resemblance to a textbook, any university program that intends to turn out well-rounded therapists should find a place in its coursework for The Violence of Men. Madanes' emotional yet powerful style crosses comfortably between a range of clinical approaches regardless of whether or not the therapist is a strategist. The only clear limitation appears when a therapist must decide whether it is his or her job to take action rather than to reflect. Therapists who see themselves as non-directive will find little meat in Madanes' approach and might miss the point of the book altogether. Those who are looking for guidance about steps that can be taken to stop violence in families and the community will easily integrate the common sense inherent in her thinking.
Straus, Murray A. (1994). Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Lexington Books. 283 pp. ISBN 0-02-931730-4.
With a title like the above, this book should catch the attention of both professionals and the public. Straus believes it is time for professionals to break the "conspiracy of silence" about the dangerous effects of corporal punishment used to control and correct children. He believes that the time has come to change the public's acceptance of physical punishment. In this well-documented book, based on data from the 1975 and 1985 National Family Violence Surveys, plus an extensive review of the literature on violence, Straus reports strong relationships among corporal punishment, child abuse, marital violence, and depression. He cites the similarities between corporal punishment and violence: Both include reference to acts inflicted to cause physical pain.
Beating the Devil is divided into three parts. Part I discusses (a) the social acceptance of corporal punishment (e.g., almost all American parents hit toddlers—usually repeatedly); (b) the number and experiences of children subjected to corporal punishment (e.g., over half of the parents in the sample still hit their adolescent children, and 25% continued until the child left home); (c) the kind of parents likely to use corporal punishment; and (d) the influence of socio-economic status, religion, gender, and race on the frequency and use of corporal punishment. Part II presents data supporting the unwanted side effects of corporal punishment: depression and suicide, the approval of interpersonal violence, and couple violence. Chapter 6 is an excellent reference for the person interested in the relationship between physical punishment and child abuse: Research data comparing abusive and nonabusive parents showed abusing parents (a) were hit more frequently by their parents; (b) had symptoms of depression; (c) believed it was acceptable for husbands and wives to occasionally hit each other; and (d) frequently experienced marital violence. Part III examines the future, suggesting ways to expose the myths connected to beliefs that hitting and spanking are an acceptable and necessary part of disciplining children.
Straus believes that "no child deserves to be physically assaulted." The research presented in this book suggests that the reduction or elimination of corporal punishment would reduce stress and trauma for both children and parents, making family relationships stronger and resulting in fewer people who are alienated, depressed, or involved in violent crimes. This book should be read by parents and professionals alike.
Woodson, Jacqueline (1995). Autobiography of a Family Photo. New York: Penguin Books. 113 pp. ISBN 0-525-93721-8.
Autobiography of a Family Photo is a provocative story of a family shaped by violence and abuse. Its power and captivation lie not in the details and disclosure of an all-too-familiar account of family violence, but in its narration through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. Woodson dramatically and realistically portrays how a young girl must feel being beaten and raped, and then ultimately looking for love from those who have violated her. The young girl's thoughts, fears, and hopes for a safe place to grow up are indelibly etched in the reader's mind. While some people can turn their backs on family violence, claiming it is not their problem, it is much more difficult to do so when it is an innocent girl who is screaming out in pain and frustration.
The reader is struck by the absence of a childhood for this ten-year-old girl who remains nameless throughout the book. For those readers who did grow up in a relatively safe environment and were allowed to experience "childhood," it is difficult to imagine such an entirely different life story. Because each chapter is titled by date and year, one can easily ask the question "Where was I on Oct. 19, 1972?" The answer may be an uncomfortable comparison of overall safety and warmth—unable to remember many specific details of childhood because of an absence of horror and abuse. The narrator's childhood memories are long-lasting because of their severity. Unlike a wound that leaves no physical trace behind and that can be easily forgotten, a scar keeps the memory alive as it becomes a part of the body—always there as a remembrance of the pain. Her childhood is a scar, both mental and physical, of which she is often reminded. Woodson is skilled at combining the innocence of youth with the intense feelings of horror, rage, and isolation that no ten year old should have to experience. An excellent example of this combination of a youthful voice with the eloquence of a poet can be found in the following passage when the young girl attempts to close out the only world she knows:
I died once when I was ten and in the death words tossed themselves at me, blurring in their wake. Sky. Became the term for blue. Perfection, a synonym for rage. Simplicity, the bark-colored darkness behind closed eyes. (p. 4)
If the story is autobiographical, it is a triumph of the spirit over such adverse living conditions that becomes the beauty of the book. One is left with the question of how such an author overcame her upbringing to become such a gifted writer. The young girl in the novel kept a journal, and it may be that through the avenue of expression and imagination, she was able to triumph. A theme throughout the book is the need to numb the pain very quickly and to mentally escape such a harsh reality. The girl becomes an expert at how one can think about something else and be a million miles away. Woodson writes, "If you shut your eyes real tight, you can be in that other place in less than a minute. Don't even think or feel and boom! You are not even anywhere anymore" (p. 36). Thankfully, Woodson does not provide an escape for the reader from the atrocities of family violence and from the long-term pain experienced by the innocent children who are its victims.