Human Nature Review  2003 Volume 3: 1-11 ( 15 January )
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Essay Review

The Holy Trinity and the Legacy of the Italian School of Criminal Anthropology
Anthony Walsh

Review of Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological
By Mary Gibson
Praeger Press. Hardcover - 272 pages (2002)

Mary Gibson, historian and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal
Justice, has written a most authoritative work on Italian physician Cesare
Lombroso and the origins of positivist criminology. For those who get their
Lombroso third-hand from the rantings of textbook authors, many of whom have
obviously not read any of his works, her book is a breath of fresh air. Gibson
writes with the calm detachment of the professional historian about the
theories produced by Italian school of criminology, led by the famous triad (or
"holy trinity," as they were once known) of Lombroso and the lawyers Enrico
Fermi and Raffael Garofalo. Working with original Italian documents, only
rarely does she betray her subjective point of view, preferring to defer to
critics who were contemporaries of Lombroso. Another welcome aspect of her book
is that she places everything into the social, political, economic, and
historical context of the risorgimento (unification of Italy) completed in
1870. This both allows readers to understand the ideological underpinnings of
Italian positivism while at the same time disallowing them the common practice
of judging older works by contemporary moral and scientific standards.

A Bridge Between the Classical and Positivist Schools
Although I enjoyed Gibson's book, I would have liked to see a short chapter
outlining the transition from the classical school to the positivist school.
There is no sharp discontinuity between classicism and positivism on all
matters. The classical affirmation of human characteristics of free will and
rationality did much to push science into the forefront as a method of
gathering knowledge, as did its abandonment of supernaturalism and its embrace
of the natural. Positivism did not disprove or destroy classical principles, it
simply shifted emphasis from the law and penology to the individual offender.
Gibson does provide a discussion of Cesare Beccaria's contribution, but he
contributed nothing to the understanding of the individual criminal. The focus
on the individual criminal in the positivist school is an important distinction
between it and the classical schools, but this focus did not necessarily begin
with Lombroso.

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Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology
(Italian and Italian American Studies)
by Mary Gibson
Publisher: Praeger Pub Text; ISBN: 0275970620; (August 30, 2002)

Book Description

Despite the popular perception that genetic explanations of the causes of crime
are new, biological determinism is an idea that dates back to the birth of
criminology. This is largely due to the efforts of Cesare Lombroso, widely
regarded as the father of modern criminology. His 1876 work, Criminal Man, drew
on Darwin to propose that most lawbreakers were throwbacks to a more primitive
level of human evolution--identifiable by their physical traits, such as small
heads, flat noses, large ears, and the like. These "born criminals" could not
escape their biological destiny. The "scientific" appeal of these theories of
what Lombroso called criminal anthropology had a powerful and long-lasting
influence in contemporary Italy, Europe, and the Western world as a whole, and
even today the stereotypes they created resonate in popular culture.

About the Author

MARY S. GIBSON is Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
and the Graduate School, City University of New York.


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