Payback: The Case For Revenge

Hardcover | April 10, 2013

byThane Rosenbaum

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We call it justice—the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the incarceration of corrupt politicians or financiers like Rod Blagojevich and Bernard Madoff, and the climactic slaying of cinema-screen villains by superheroes. But could we not also call it revenge? We are told that revenge is uncivilized and immoral, an impulse that individuals and societies should actively repress and replace with the order and codes of courtroom justice. What, if anything, distinguishes punishment at the hands of the government from a victim’s individual desire for retribution? Are vengeance and justice really so very different? No, answers legal scholar and novelist Thane Rosenbaum in Payback: The Case for Revenge—revenge is, in fact, indistinguishable from justice. 
 
Revenge, Rosenbaum argues, is not the problem. It is, in fact, a perfectly healthy emotion. Instead, the problem is the inadequacy of lawful outlets through which to express it. He mounts a case for legal systems to punish the guilty commensurate with their crimes as part of a societal moral duty to satisfy the needs of victims to feel avenged. Indeed, the legal system would better serve the public if it gave victims the sense that vengeance was being done on their behalf. Drawing on a wide range of support, from recent studies in behavioral psychology and neuroeconomics, to stories of vengeance and justice denied, to revenge practices from around the world, to the way in which revenge tales have permeated popular culture—including Hamlet, The Godfather, and Braveheart—Rosenbaum demonstrates that vengeance needs to be more openly and honestly discussed and lawfully practiced. 
 
Fiercely argued and highly engaging, Payback is a provocative and eye-opening cultural tour of revenge and its rewards—from Shakespeare to The Sopranos. It liberates revenge from its social stigma and proves that vengeance is indeed ours, a perfectly human and acceptable response to moral injury. Rosenbaum deftly persuades us to reconsider a misunderstood subject and, along the way, reinvigorates the debate on the shape of justice in the modern world.

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From the Publisher

We call it justice—the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the incarceration of corrupt politicians or financiers like Rod Blagojevich and Bernard Madoff, and the climactic slaying of cinema-screen villains by superheroes. But could we not also call it revenge? We are told that revenge is uncivilized and immoral, an impulse that individu...

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, and law professor. He is the author of The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right, as well as four novels, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke,the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, and the novel for young adults, The Stranger within Sarah Stein. His articles, re...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:328 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:April 10, 2013Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226726614

ISBN - 13:9780226726618

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Introduction

1 Running away from Revenge
2 Just Deserts
3 The Emotions of Revenge
4 The Science of Mad
5 Why We Punish?
6 Other Cultures and Revenge
7 When Self-Help Is Permissible
8 Release Revenge

Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

“The book’s disturbing theme is that revenge is an important aspect of justice and should be more prominent in American jurisprudence. Readers may initially be repelled, but Rosenbaum asks them to stick with the book long enough to consider what it would mean if revenge, visceral and personal, were incorporated into the judicial process. . . . The book is cross-cultural, even handed, well sourced. . . and bound to spark heated discussions. Essential.”