Payback: The Case for Revenge

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Payback: The Case for Revenge

Praise for Payback: The Case for Revenge:

Because it is often regarded as un-Christian revenge has acquired a bad name. In this incisive analysis, Thane Rosenbaum argues that revenge is a hunger in most injured hearts and the very fundament of our idea of justice. This is a compelling and provocative book, immensely valuable both for its close reasoning and its honesty.

—Scott Turow

This erudite book, which combines the history of our criminal justice system with the most recent headline crime news, is bound to create political and legal controversy because it challenges the sacred cow maintaining that there is no place for revenge, or retribution, in our legal system. Thane Rosenbaum argues persuasively that criminal justice must acknowledge retributive needs if it is to work effectively. Many, including me, will disagree with some of his ideas especially his contention that victims should have a much larger role in determining the ultimate penalties for those convicted of crimes. But these are vital questions, too often unexamined, and this is a book that opens a much-needed public dialogue.

—Susan Jacoby, author of Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge and Never Say Die

“One of our most original and compelling thinkers about the law and its limitations, Thane Rosenbaum takes on the theme whose name dare not be spoken in polite circles: revenge. With his singular panache and mastery of sources from Supreme Court cases to popular culture to–gasp–life itself, Rosenbaum takes us on a substantive and stylistic tour de force that leads to the ‘shocking’ conclusion that if the law won’t set things right, which it so often fails to do, then it is okay, indeed moral, for us to do so ourselves.”

—Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

In this brilliant book, Thane Rosenbaum finds language for what all of us, at one time or another, have felt in our bones that there is a law higher than those made by legislatures or courts; and that, when evil appears among us, an appropriate response is the oldest: revenge. Independent thinking at its best, Rosenbaum’s fiercely argued text dares to speak truth to cowardice and calls us to understand and accommodate the demand that a punishment that fit the crime and that the score be settled in the Chicago Way.

—Rich Cohen, author of The Avengers

“Rosenbaum inhabits both the fact-based legal world and the emotion-based arts realm, able to address everything from talion to The Princess Bride. His satisfying work gives us permission, contrary to contemporary politeness, to assert “honor in payback.” . . . Rosenbaum renders a consequential, often gruesome topic uplifting, even fun.”

Publisher’s Weekly (*starred review)

“Rosenbaum spells out the virtually unspeakable in a liberal humanitarian culture: justice is revenge.”

—Times of London

“What is the difference between justice and revenge . . . Thane Rosenbaum . . . draw[s] on such sources as Supreme Court cases, tabloid tales and literary classics, . . . argu[ing] that we would be better served if we carved out a place for revenge in our legal system.”

—Los Angeles Times

“For some people, only when justice is seen to be done that true reparation or resolution become possible. . . . Rosenbaum says that vengeance is an instinct at the core of our emotions. . . . What does that do to ideas such as turning the other cheek . . . Rosenbaum retorts that those who, like Gandhi, say, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind” ignore their own moral blindness. For him, it’s cowardice that asks victims to accept their loss without recourse. Gandhi argued otherwise: ahimsa is for the strong because it dares to take on instinct.”

—Economic Times

“Well-written . . . Rosenbaum convincingly argues for knocking down the false distinction between justice and revenge, for rescuing revenge from its taboo status.”

—Washington Post

“A readably opinionated and thought-provoking book. . . Payback has made me want to engage with its arguments; I have been tempted to write not so much a review but a response, . . . That temptation stems in part from the fact that the book is constructed as essay-style chapters around a central theme, thus creating a ‘conversation’ or argumentative discourse with the reader. One of its strengths is its multidisciplinarity, drawing ideas from life, science, literature and history to reflect on recent crimes that have caused real moral dilemmas and perceived failures in justice delivery. It will be recommended reading on quite a few book lists . . . In sum, Payback is worth reading, even if only to disagree with it.”

—Times Higher Education

“Fascinating and well-wrought . . . With extensive references to popular culture, literary sources, academic studies, contemporary news events, and actual case law, Rosenbaum develops his arguments and challenges readers to consider vengeance as a moral right and a cure for what ails the current system. He makes a difficult topic accessible and succeeds in asking questions that deserve consideration.”

—Library Journal

“In calling for revenge to be better understood, appreciated and taken into account within the justice system, Thane Rosenbaum is on interesting, occasionally persuasive ground. . . . Rosenbaum’s trawl of such issues is both informative and entertaining.”

—Literary Review (UK)

“Essential. . . . [T]his theme would be completely unpalatable if it were not for Rosenbaum’s relentless, open style. . . . The book is cross-cultural, evenhanded, well sourced, . . . and bound to spark heated discussions.”

—Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries