Life and death issues are uniquely fundamental, since they alone serve as a precondition for the examination of all other issues. Life and death questions move us beyond an abstract, formalist framework. This study gives substance to the social scientific imagination and demonstrates that the present underlying preoccupations of social research give scant consideration to basic issues of life and death, in favor of distinctly derivative ones.
Horowitz asserts that genocide is not a sporadic or random event, nor is it necessarily linked to economic development or social progress. Genocide is a special sort of mass destruction conducted with the approval of the state apparatus. Utilizing genocide as the focal issue, he derives a new typology of social systems, which distinguishes eight types of societies within a framework of state power rather than cultural systems. Horowitz views genocide as a totalitarian technique for achieving national solidarity, ultimately resulting in a state without compassion and law without justice.
The work has been so thoroughly revised and expanded as to merit its new title. Taking Lives has entirely new chapters on bureaucracy and state power, genocide and the human rights movement, and problems of individualism and collectivism in the life taking process. References have been expanded and updated, and the text entirely rewritten and newly integrated.