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Behind the Shock Machine: the untold story of the notorious Milgram psychology experiments [Kindle Edition]

Gina Perry
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The true story of the most controversial psychological research of the modern era.

In the summer of 1961, a group of men and women volunteered for a memory experiment to be conducted by young, dynamic psychologist Stanley Milgram. None could have imagined that, once seated in the lab, they would be placed in front of a box known as a shock machine and asked to administer a series of electric shocks to a man they’d just met. And no one could have foreseen how the repercussions of their actions, made under pressure and duress, would reverberate throughout their lives. For what the volunteers did not know was that the man was an actor, the shocks were fake, and what was really being tested was just how far they would go.

When Milgram’s results were released, they created a worldwide sensation. He reported that people had repeatedly shocked a man they believed to be in pain, even dying, because they had been told to — he linked the finding to Nazi behaviour during the Holocaust. But some questioned Milgram’s unethical methods in fooling people. Milgram became both hero and villain, and his work seized the public imagination for more than half a century, inspiring books, plays, films, and art.

For Gina Perry, the story of the experiments never felt finished. Listening to participants’ accounts and reading Milgram’s unpublished files and notebooks, she pieced together an intriguing, sensational story: Milgram’s plans went further than anyone had imagined. This is the compelling tale of one man’s ambition and of the experiment that defined a generation.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for the Australian edition:

"Remarkable…Reading Behind the Shock Machine becomes an act of creative disobedience."
The Australian

"There may be no studies of the twentieth century more haunting—or more revealing of human beings at their best and worst—than Stanley Milgram’s work. And here, finally, is a book that illuminates Milgram and his research subjects in riveting, compassionate detail."
—Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park

"[A] provocative magnum opus… full of new info and insights, written with a literary flair so engaging and absorbing that I found it hard to put down."
—Thomas Blass, author of The Man Who Shocked the World

"An intriguing tale about science, ethics and storytelling."
The Age

"An absorbing account of Stanley Milgram, his subjects, and the continuing quest to understand what it means to be human."
—David Baker, director, Archives of the History of American Psychology

About the Author

Gina Perry is a psychologist and writer. She wrote the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s award-winning Radio National documentary Beyond the Shock Machine. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Product Details

  • File Size: 752 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scribe Publications (April 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007NOI2YC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,921 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much bias, too little understanding October 20, 2013
I write this review with some trepidation, not only because [full disclosure here] I was one of Milgram's graduate students and I liked him very much, but also because I have corresponded with and met Gina Perry. She is a pleasant, likable person and I think she is sincere but wrong. The disclosures about Milgram are disturbing but at the same time, it's my opinion that Perry's book is also unintentionally dishonest in a number of ways.

You might imagine that being a student of Milgram's, I'd be very upset by this book, which reveals that many things he said about the shock experiments were less than totally honest. But in fact I think it allows me to see things in a more balanced way than Perry does. She went into the book with an awe of the experiments and knew very little negative about Milgram. But the book reads as if she felt betrayed (I freely admit this is speculation on my part) and went to the opposite extreme as a reaction; she savagely flays Milgram in her book over and over again. I knew too much about Milgram to feel betrayed. I always knew Milgram had flaws. He was so brusque and intimidating in the first class I took with him that I almost didn't take another one. But I eventually grew to like him and found that he was very gracious and kind to people he liked. Fortunately this included me.

Perry went through the archives at Yale University and does document much of what she writes. We were all led to believe, for example, that everyone was thoroughly debriefed immediately after they finished their part in the experiment they were part of (there were many variations published). This is the real bombshell of the book.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Obedience" through a prism August 29, 2013
Before reading Gina Perry's book, I thought the findings of Dr. Milgram's obedience experiments were as cut and dry, black and white, as the film of my father(James McDonough) getting shocked in that Psych 101 classic, "Obedience to Authority." So when Perry contacted me a few years ago and asked to interview me about my father's involvement for a radio documentary, I was quite surprised. Hadn't everything that needed to be said about these experiments already been said? Isn't Milgram's thesis that ordinary people, under the right set of circumstances, are capable of great evil, a foregone conclusion? And besides; what could Perry rediscover some 50 year after the experiments that we didn't already know? As it turns out...a lot. After reading "Behind The Shock Machine" I was amazed that Perry could pick up this old gem of an experiment, put on her loupe and examine it from so many different angles. Like inspecting a diamond prism, she searches the teacher's angle, the learner's angle, the experimenter's angle, and yes, Milgram's angle. Not an easy task considering most of the experiment participants have gone on to their great reward. What she finds isn't always pretty, and yes there are plenty of flaws in Milgram's results and his sometimes uncaring attitude toward the experiment's "teachers" and their debriefings. But I don't believe it was ever Perry's desire to debunk Milgram; just to give us the whole picture and humanize and maybe colorize that classic old black and white "Obedience" experiment.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revolutionary new take on a psychology classic August 30, 2013
What I loved most about this work was it's use of archival materials created in the period when Milgram was doing his research. None of the standard histories and absolutely none of the textbooks will give you what Perry found. This was an extremely provocative experience for the 760 subjects who took part. Here are three key things that Perry uncovered. First, contrary to what Milgram reported, the majority of the subjects were not de-hoaxed in a timely fashion. Many left the experiment believing that they had shocked a man quite severely. Some continued to suffer trauma as a result of their behavior even decades later. Second, there was another large number of subjects who were totally sceptical about the cover story -- many saw through the deception and continued to give shocks believing they were harmless. This was exactly what commentators suggested at the time.. And finally, Milgram suppressed one particular condition in which people intimate with one another were paired as teacher and learner. Here the defiance level was so high it called into question the explanation that authority figures can turn ordinary people into callous brutes. Milgram never reported it. Perry's book will appeal to students who feel that they never get the full story behind these classic studies. The narration is on the casual side, which will make this appeal to the non-academic reader. Readers will also appreciate Perry's BS detector -- she reports her reactions to tough questions with key informants, and you can tell she does not believe everything suggested to her. Great read. Great supplement to any course in experimental social psychology.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps ... October 21, 2013
By Randall
Ms Perry really dropped the ball because what could have been a provocative, important, and readable biography of a controversial study in the late 1950s, turns out to be nothing more than a crude attempt to discredit its author, Milgram, worthy more of the National Enquirer than the "New Press." The title of this book might better have been "Perhaps." It is riddled with statements that are based on nothing more than her conjectures (prejudices?).

"Perhaps it was three years before he got around to finishing..."

"Perhaps he was just nervous .... or perhaps he just sensed ...."

"Perhaps it was that he wanted Abse's approval...Perhaps Milgram identified with Abse."

Or such statements as: "It is probable that he wanted..."

Is this book supposed to be non-fiction, or some kind of historical fiction? What kind of serious non-fiction book has no index? These days, it is pretty simple to create one.

Her psychological insights made me wonder: "Didn't Milgram just seem ... a bit strange...."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars why not to buy this book
Primary Distortion: Ignoring Writings of Book Subject. The primary distortion that Perry makes in this book, and the hyperventilating publicity that she concocted to hawk this... Read more
Published 1 month ago by California Surfer
3.0 out of 5 stars worth reading
The writer of this book, Australian journalist Gina Perry, began her research to discover why Milgram's famous psychological experiments were so dreadful. Read more
Published 3 months ago by William Ashcraft
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific book
Ms. Perry has done a terrific job of telling an important part of the Milgram story that has been overlooked in previous accounts. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jon Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars The other story...
Perry's interviews breakthrough the obfuscation inherent in the art of social psychology. And man was Milgram an artist. Thank you Gina Perry!
Published 4 months ago by Reid Harrod Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in critical thinking!
Mention the Milgram study and the common understanding is that anyone could succumb to doing horrible deeds if ordered by an authority. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amy Werman
4.0 out of 5 stars illuminating book
As someone studying this experiment as the book was published, naturally, I ordered it. As a detailed explanation of not only the famous first experiment, but also other... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher B. Shay
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, not a big shock.
I learned a great deal about the drives behind Milgram and behind the test. The fact that he doctored the roles to create his desired results doesn't shock me (yup, I said that). Read more
Published 7 months ago by Panther
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking Book - Electrifying Implications
Gina Perry's - Behind the Shock Machine - offers readers a very informative and compelling story, artfully crafted, about the infamous Milgram Experiments at Yale University. Read more
Published 7 months ago by A Aronow
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and investigation
Well written investigation into an often avoided aspect of the Milligram experiments. Tells a nip umber of follow-ups with the subjects
Published 7 months ago by William Lander
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Read, Too Much Speculation
I teach courses on influence and persuasion and have referred to the Milgram studies many times. Because of that and based on the recommendation of a friend I was very interested... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Brian Ahearn
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