This ambitious and imaginative work interprets criminal justice history by relating it to intellectual and cultural history. Starting from the assumption that policies and statutes originate in a society's values and norms, the author skillfully and persuasively demonstrates how changes in criminal law and penal practice were related to the changing values of early, mid, and late Victorian and Edwardian society. Wiener traces changes in the criminal justice system by examining the treatment of offenders. During the Victorian period the system became more punitive and then reformed to be more welfarist. This work offers insight into the contemporary Anglo-American penal system. In addition, Wiener's wide-ranging discussion of issues, most notably of free will versus determinism, sheds light on a broad range of Victorian history, beyond crime and punishment.
'This account of the penal law and the penal system in Victorian England is worked out with great care and an abundance of documentation ... Martin Wiener has illuminated a major aspect of the moral and social revolution of our own time.' Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Times Literary Supplement 'Reconstructing the Criminal is valuable addition to our stock of knowledge about nineteenth-century penality. It is an original and important work, refreshingly free of jargon, and based on prodigious historical research.' Piers Beirne, Contemporary Sociology 'Martin J. Wiener's book provides an intellectual framework for understanding the varieties and complexities of the topic by considering attitudes and actions in their cultural settings. Borrowing methods from literature and using a wide range of sources, Wiener gives coherence to the practices of nineteenth-century penology and a foundation to those of the twentieth century.' E. M. Palmegiano, American Historical Review