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Books, Journals, New Media
December 11, 2002

ViolenceBase Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill?

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available


Copyright 2002 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2002American Medical Association


by Jonathan H. Pincus, 239 pp, paper, $14.95, ISBN 0-393-32323-4, New York, NY, WW Norton, 2001.

JAMA. 2002;288(22):2896. doi:10.1001/jama.288.22.2896

In Base Instincts Jonathan Pincus, professor of medicine and neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, proves a wonderful storyteller. His clinical vignettes have dialogue, drama, pathos, and character development. They are colorful and sometimes grisly. They include interesting clinical findings. They induce sadness and frustration because the irrational behaviors of the protagonists invariably result in tragedy.

For example, a man called Donovan was on death row because he brutally and violently murdered a used car dealer in order to steal a small amount of money. Donovan repeatedly stabbed and almost decapitated the victim. He was promptly arrested and confessed to the murder. While in jail awaiting trial, Donovan used a telephone marked "monitored" and tried to arrange for the murder of a witness who could incriminate him. Donovan was found guilty of murdering the car dealer and sentenced to death. New lawyers asked Pincus to evaluate Donovan as part of Donovan's appeal of the death sentence.

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