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Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Short Enquiry into Retribution

Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Short Enquiry into Retribution

Revenge is a primal force at the heart of conflict and justice—as ancient as humanity itself. It can be found in nearly all societies and, culturally, we are fascinated by it—as countless novels, dramas, films, and computer games attest. “Getting even” can restore the balance of relationships and bring order. It can fill the vacuum left by imperfect or unjust justice systems. It can rescue people trapped in oppressive conditions. But revenge can also get out of control; spirals of revenge are notoriously destructive and impervious to appeals for peace and forgiveness.

In this bold new book, Stephen Fineman lifts the lid on revenge, exposing its intriguing contours in arenas as diverse as the workplace, intimate relationships, the search for societal justice, war, and politics. He explores the psychology and experience of revenge and touches on more recent manifestations, like cyber-stalking and revenge pornography, in order to ask important questions: How best can we prevent the most damaging effects of revenge? When should retribution be tolerated, or even celebrated?  If we are all potential avengers, what does that say about us?

In an age when digital media has created a new generation of armchair avengers, settling real or imaginary scores and starting-up new ones, Revenge is more than timely. Thoughtful and critical, Revenge tackles one of society’s oldest and greatest vices.

224 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Culture Studies


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"Fineman’s brief, questioning book is both a history and, by and large, a justification of revenge. It is, he argues, a primal human urge. . . . This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It shows that blanket condemnations of revenge are over-hasty, and it leaves you feeling that what we call justice is not so much the opposite of revenge as a way of legalizing it."

Sunday Times

"More compendium than treatise. . . . The compulsion to avenge ‘threats to one's well-being, territory, pride, honor, esteem, identity, or role’ is, Fineman writes, ‘fixed in our biosocial make-up and triggered by strong emotions: sorrow, grief, humiliation, anger, or rage.’ It is a legacy of our primate origins, or perhaps more accurately a reminder of our primate essence. Like chimpanzees and macaques, our species combines social reciprocity with a capacity for long memory. We merely perfected the capacity to hold a grudge—and to repay it with interest, using tools (weapons) more dangerous than anything available to primal chimp justice."

Scott McLemee | Inside Higher Ed

"Fineman argues, very persuasively, that revenge is a dish we really should serve—whether cold, hot or as a lukewarm canapé. ‘Our compulsion to avenge a wrongdoing is among the most primal of human urges,’ he explains. ‘Getting even shows there is a price to pay.’ I raced through this book, cackling—and relishing in particular the pages pointing out how, throughout history, and still in some areas of the world, mine is the sex that has been persistently maltreated and oppressed and that it’s jolly nice finally to be getting our own back."

Emily Hill | Spectator

"The premise of Fineman's book is that the revenge instinct is the key to understanding our violent times as well as those of the past, and each short chapter is a lively romp through the various ways in which revenge is manifested."

Times Literary Supplement

“A compelling and relevant book, examining how revenge is not only affecting the world around us, but is remaking history, too.”

Niki Panteli, Royal Holloway, University of London

"In this highly entertaining and illuminating book, Fineman reveals how this powerful human urge to get our own back plays out in a wide range of settings—from the family and the workplace to within communities and between nations. Through the careful and nuanced analysis of historical and contemporary examples he shows how both revenge and forgiveness are not as straightforward as often depicted. Don’t get mad, get Fineman’s book."

Rob B. Briner, Queen Mary University of London

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