Gangland: An Encyclopedia of Gang Life from Cradle to Grave. Edited by Laura L. Finley. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2018. 2 vols. Acid-free $198 (ISBN 978-1-4408-4473-7). E-book Available (978-1-4408-4474-4), call for pricing.

The existence of gangs and the impact of gang-related criminal activity on communities in the United States has been an issue examined by criminologists and law enforcement officials for decades. While the focus of such inquiry has historically been centered on the harm caused by gangs, it is often overlooked that such groups also have been known to engage in pursuits resulting in social good. In Gangland: An Encyclopedia of Gang Life from Cradle to Grave, editor Laura L. Finley endeavors to demystify common gang misperceptions regarding this both intriguing and terrifying facet of the American population.

This two-volume encyclopedia contains over two hundred entries authored by criminologists, community professionals, students, and journalists, which detail the formation, history, membership, purpose, activities, and evolution of the nation’s most prominent gangs. Entries also highlight gang-related books, documentaries and films, programs and initiatives, court cases, those individuals involved in gang reduction efforts, collateral consequences of gang-related criminal activity, and criminological theories relative to gang endeavors. Photographs and excerpts from primary source documents associated with each of the aforesaid topics provide additional context and perspective.

Finley begins with an introduction that discusses the volumes’ objectives, provides common gang characteristics, and describes the various types of gangs including hate, prison, street, and motorcycle gangs. The preliminary materials also include a segment concerning the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s gang classification criteria and how such designations impact arrest and prosecution. This section concludes with a description of those legal initiatives designed to respond to and prevent gang activity. This is followed by a relatively lengthy history of gangs in the United States accompanied by a chronology that begins with the first appearance of gangs in New York City in the 1820s and ends with events occurring in 2017. These two sections provide important background information supporting the entries that focus on the various gangs themselves.

The relatively brief entries afford limited topical coverage and will therefore be of value only to those a seeking an introduction to the material. Depth aside, Finley provides a wide range of topics, which serve to shed light on a plethora of issues not merely about individual gangs but concerning such concomitant issues as how criminologists have studied them and even how they have been depicted in popular culture. Furthermore, the inclusion of see also subject terms, a guide to related topics beginning each volume, and a generous compilation of recommended resources including books, documentary and feature films, journals, and online resources provide an extensive array of suggestions for additional investigation.

Gangland: An Encyclopedia of Gang Life from Cradle to Grave is unique from other gang-related reference materials primarily in terms of its scope. While Finley accurately describes many of the most notable gangs of the United States, she is not predominantly concerned with constitution, recruitment, organization, purpose, and other identifying characteristics. Instead, this encyclopedia has a much broader focus, encompassing a wide array of gang-related topics, including their impact on social media, representation in film and literature, and those initiatives, laws, and people instrumental in the examination and research of gang behavior.

This set offers a respectable overview of the progression and characteristics of gang activity and those persons and initiatives related to them. The list of readings corresponding to each entry and the extensive recommended resources offer an excellent starting point for supplementary inquiry for those interested in further exploration. In sum, Gangland: An Encyclopedia of Gang Life from Cradle to Grave is an excellent introductory resource, which will be of value to general readers through undergraduates.—Dianna Kim, Assistant Professor and Research and Instruction Librarian, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas


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