Book Reviews

Forensic Psychology by David Canter

ISBN: 978-0199550203
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 144

Earlier this year I finished a course on geographic profiling. Our course was based on books edited by David Canter. The course material was great, yet Davids own contributions stood out as extraordinaire; David Canter has a gift for making complex science accessible without loosing any relevant details. Coincidentally, a year ago, I attended the Oxford Literary Festival where David Canter presented this book. And now I finally got around to read it.

Let me start with the concept. I've read several of the books collected under the "very short introduction" brand. I'm a big fan of the concept. Usually the books serve as a solid introduction to the topic. Forensic Psychology is no exception. If there's one problem with it, it's the wide range of the subject. David Canter provides an exhaustive tour through most areas of forensic psychology such as lie detection, court experts, interviews with witnesses and suspects, insanity pleads, rehabilitation, profiling, and much more. There's even a chapter on how criminals are made, which touches the borders of philosophy. It's fair to say that each of these topics could make up a decent very short introduction on their own. Thus, some discussions do feel shallow. For example, when discussing eyewitness identifications, David claims that "witnesses can be unconsciously nudged into selecting the person whom those overseeing the procedure, such as in an identity parade, believe is the offender". Since I've done my thesis on unconscious decision making I would be interested in reading more about that very subject. Unfortunately, there are few references. Given the role of the series, it's a bit unfortunate; simply adding references would make a dramatic improvement.

Aside from the absent references, Forensic Psychology is an interesting dive into a field that is growing at a tremendous speed. With the advent of computer guided systems and the increasing significance of (geographic) profiling tools, forensic psychology has a lot of potential for us software people too. So put aside that C# or Clojure book for a while and read Canter's work; software developers, the psychologists need us.

Reviewed March 2012