THE question of why people do deliberately evil deeds is fascinating. ``Seductions of Crime'' capitalizes on this fascination by its title and by the snake on its cover, catapulting a work of scholarly interest in its own right into the realm of popular consumption. The book examines crime from the perspective of the criminal, challenging the widely accepted materialist analysis of crime as the consequence of lack of opportunity to legitimately acquire desired goods. Through exhaustive examination of field notes and of published works, Jack Katz presents the ``lived contours of crime'' to the reader. The content varies from the raw urgency and easy violence of offender accounts to the author's analysis through experimentation with metaphor.
Recurring through the discussion of the author's constellation of offense types - from sneaky thrills through ``righteous slaughter'' - is the theme of the emotional and sensual payoffs achieved by the criminal.
Criminal behavior is depicted as motivated not so much by the desire for immediate self-protection or gain as by the sheer joy and satisfaction of the act itself or the reputation caused by it. The seduction of crime and the appeal of the criminal life style are described as being so strong that crime is engaged in despite personal risk and potential loss.
The accounts by offenders are compelling; the author's analysis through metaphor, though perhaps too far-reaching on occasion, has an originality that is provocative.
The comparison of ghetto to middle-class deviance provides one such instance. ``In the ghetto, congregations of adolescents style themselves as elites; outside poor ethnic-minority communities, adolescents fashion deviant styles by dressing up as commoners, working-class militants, or members of a mass.''
The book glows in its role of storyteller and interpreter from a fresh perspective, with an impressive underpinning of scholarly documentation.
Where the book is a disappointment, however, is in its condemnation of materialist theory for failure to explain the causes of crime adequately and in the author's pretension that he does so.
Materialist theory, explaining criminal behavior by examining the environment within which the offender lives, cannot satisfactorily explain away the nonoffending sibling or neighbor when pointing to the environment as the cause of criminal behavior. Katz points up this difficulty and justifiably chides the traditional study of crime for its ``... neglect of the positive, often wonderful attractions within the lived experience of criminality.''
Katz enriches the discussion of crime, but there is an unfounded arrogance in his assertions that he is explaining the causes of criminal behavior. The factors he analyzes are casual only in hindsight. He does no better than the materialist in explaining why one individual will engage in a sustained pattern of criminality while another will not.
Even more telling, he cannot explain why, within the life of a single individual, criminal behavior begins at one time and not another. His analysis of such behavior is largely limited to the period of its occurrence. And there is no real discussion at all about the circumstances surrounding an individual's termination of criminal behavior.
Attention to such termination, to the tensions and conflicts faced by ex-offenders struggling to shed their past patterns of response as angry and violent individuals, would have provided valuable information on how individuals change and how and when the appeal of criminal activity diminishes.
Katz opens his book by discussing the violent interrogation of a Vietnamese prisoner by an American who, initially unenthusiastic, begins `` ... to discover overriding sensual dimensions in the process.'' He then draws parallel, in the end of his last chapter, between the tactics that street fighters use to create conflict requiring ``self-defense'' and the war-promoting behaviors of current Western democracies.
His closing sentence sums up the attractiveness, the offensiveness, and the richness of his book. ``Perhaps in the end, what we find so repulsive about studying the reality of crime - the reason we so insistently refuse to look closely at how street criminals destroy others and bungle their way into confinement to save their sense of purposive control over their lives - is the piercing reflection we catch when we steady our glance at those evil men.''