BASE INSTINCTS: What Makes Killers Kill

Jonathan H. Pincus, Author Norton $25.95 (239p) ISBN 978-0-393-05022-6

Pincus explores the biological, psychological and social influences at work within the minds of contemporary murderers in this collection of case studies. Chairman emeritus of Georgetown University's Department of Neurology, he notes that although he spent years as a "regular" neurologist studying violent criminals, his prejudices (and those of his colleagues) colored his study of criminal cognition and behavior. His longtime collaborator, Dr. Dorothy Lewis, helped him develop a new theory: "It is the interaction of childhood abuse with neurologic disturbances and psychiatric illnesses that explains murder." He presents several cases from the approximately 150 murderers he has examined, detailing the subtle interrelations between these three elements, which often go unnoticed because of violent individuals' denial of their own past victimization. Pincus delves into how the disparate group of killers arrived at a similar condition of extreme paranoia and instability. In each case, he depicts upbringings devoid of love and nurturing, which disposed these individuals toward violence. He concludes by discussing options for prevention and treatment, acknowledging that "tough on crime" measures receive support over more complex intervention proposals, like Hawaii's Healthy Start program and similar efforts in other areas, which target at-risk families with the goal of "parenting the parents" and have produced surprising decreases in reported abuse and neglect. This is an excellent book for all those concerned with addressing the root causes of violence—and one that should be read by those who favor punishment over prevention. (June)

Forecast:Pincus is a recognized expert on the mind of a killer who has received prior media attention, including coverage by the New Yorker. For this book, the publisher plans author appearances in D.C. and New York and expects major media interest.

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-393-32323-8
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