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Mar 25, 2021 in Book Review

Book Review: "Crime and the American Dream"

This book review is based on the work "Crime and the American Dream" written by S. Messner and R. Rosenfeld. The authors address the problem of a much higher crime rate and the number of prisoners in the United States compared to other industrialized countries. At the same time, they focus attention mainly on two types of deviant behavior, particularly murders and "white-collar" offenses, and consider numerical indicators of these crimes, the way they are carried out, and social reaction they cause.

Moreover, Messner and Rosenfeld in their book "Crime and the American Dream" show a higher degree of tolerance in the United States to major financial crimes. According to the authors, the key to understanding a high level of crime and tolerance of the society to the crimes of "white-collar" workers is the American dream. Therefore, one of the main objectives of the book review is to define and explain the author's opinion on why the American dream means a cultural ethos, praising the chasing of individuals in the conditions of competition for monetary success, and what changes it requires in order to be developed with regard to American culture and modern challenges.

The first issue discussed in the book is a society organized for a crime. Messner and Rosenfeld (2012) claimed that "high levels of violent crime in the United States result in widespread fear of crime". In fact, the main principle that governs the country is a strong emphasis on the results rather than on the means of achieving them. Moreover, the main reason for such fear is the nature of the American society. Thus, as a result of cultural commitments and arrangements, the country is organized for crime at all social levels.

The second question disclosed in the book "Crime and the American Dream" relates to the virtues and vices of the American dream. It was found that the cause of crime in the United States is highly prized cultural and social conditions. Thus, while looking for the methods to pursue material success, people believe that the realization of their dreams lets them justify commitment to this goal. Moreover, according to Messner and Rosenfeld (2012), "the term of the American dream has a paradoxical quality". This means that the American dream is a mixed concept that covers both the worst and the best elements of character of Americans. For example, if taking into account education in the United States, the portrait of an American student is always considered as an intrinsically worthy ideal. In addition, as was stated by the authors, "the American dream does not include a concern with the performance of political roles for its good" (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). This is the reason for the suspicious attitude of Americans to the government, which is viewed as a means for facilitating people's material advancement.

The next issue of particular importance discussed in the book "Crime and the American Dream" is the serious crime in the United States. The authors of the book pointed that white-collar criminality is common in the American society. It was found by Messner and Rosenfeld (2012) that "a majority of corporations in the United States has at least one example of white-collar crime". Moreover, these crimes always have an impact on consumers and taxpayers, and, as a result, there are many victims, the existence of which, actually, is not reflected in the enormous economic harm. However, white-collar crimes may lead to people's loss of their savings, homes, and jobs. This is due to the fact that there are no clear and widely accepted standards which will define those crimes as violent and recognize them as the most serious problem.

While considering white-collar crimes, it should be noted that social responsibility has to take place. It is wrong that a majority of white-collar crimes results in fines rather than imprisonment. According to Messner and Rosenfeld (2012), "this is suggested to be a lenient treatment, which reflects the nature of American society and culture". Therefore, considerable attention should be paid to social responsibility because such approach to white-collar crime punishment is manifested also in the American dream, where the level of criminality is concealed.

The next important question discussed by Messner and Rosenfeld in their book relates to the theoretical perspectives in contemporary criminology. The first thing to be provided is the scope conditions of the theories mentioned above. In fact, there are several levels of explanation of crime, which leads to miscommunication in debates regarding this issue. For example, the distinction between individual-level and macro-level explanations is important to consider the phenomenon of unemployment. According to the individual-level relationship, there is a connection between the level of educational and unemployment rate in the United States. Thus, nations with a higher level of educational attainment have a lower rate of unemployment. Besides, macro-level explanation refers to a social system, including race, class, age or gender. Therefore, in order to understand the nature of crime, Messner and Rosenfeld advice considering both individual and macro levels.

Besides, there should also be mentioned the cultural and social explanations of crime. As a crime is conformity, it arises from not only social but also cultural aspects. Moreover, according to Messner and Rosenfeld (2012), "such explanations call attention to the normal character of much deviant behavior". Hence, the understanding of crime that was developed in the book "Crime and the American Dream" is based significantly on this approach. As a result considering, for example, only cultural aspects in the explanation of crime is inappropriate. This statement is supported by the fact that criminal behavior is not simply a result of socialization; it is also a product of deviant subcultures. Therefore, it is from to make an explanation taking into account only the social structure of a nation.

Additionally, Messner and Rosenfeld defined value foundations of the American dream. First of all, it should be mentioned that the American dream embodies different value commitments, including individualism, universalism, and others, which, in fact, contributes to realizing the importance of cultural and social aspects in the portrait of Americans. The first value foundation is an achievement, which is an integral part of American society and, according to Messner and Rosenfeld (2012), "is highly conductive to the mentality". The second value orientation refers to individualism, proving that Americans are strongly committed to individual rights. This deep individual competition is a part of the American image and the American dream.

The third value foundation of American culture is universalism, which is manifested in a democratic quality. Moreover, it is a universal practice to every American to dream about success and feel fear of failure. In addition, the next basic value orientation is defined by means of the "fetishism" of money. Thus, according to Messner and Rosenfeld (2012), "money is awarded special priority in American culture". Besides, a distinctive feature of the American society is the fact that money is a precondition for the achievement of success. Consequently, all values mentioned above are widespread, and if considering the American dream from this point, the value foundations by themselves form a cultural environment, which, in turns, may be a cause of crime.

Having discussed the main elements and prerequisites of the American dream provided by Messner and Rosenfeld in their book "Crime and the American Dream", it should be noted that the social institutions have to be strengthened and the dream in itself has to be rethought. Thus, the level of crime may be reduced through social reorganization, which should include institutional reforms, such as new policies aimed at strengthening schools and improving family functioning. Moreover, the American dream should be developed by means of reforms in the polity by changing the formal system of crime control and creating additional support and control beyond the criminal justice system.

Finally, a new challenge, including the start of the cultural regeneration and providing the basis for people's enrichment, has occurred. Moreover, Messner and Rosenfeld (2012) pointed that "the American dream empowers everyone to dream about a brighter future and participate in its creation". This may be done through an intellectual foundation, providing balance between social obligations and individual interests and taking actions toward a mature society by developing a full range of talents and capacities based on mutual support.

Therefore, the authors of the book "Crime and the American Dream" Messner and Rosenfeld tried to develop an argument that nowadays the crime problem is of much importance as there is a high degree of tolerance to crimes, especially to financial ones in the United States. That is why this issue cannot be solved through changes in the criminal justice system. The problem can be solved by means of rethinking the American dream concept and strengthening the institutions of the American society. As culture plays an important role in the United States and makes an impact on the attitude to criminology, a cultural regeneration is required, which will provide changes in the individual and macro levels.


Messner, S., & Rosenfeld, R. (2012). Crime and the American Dream (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing.

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