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Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence Hardcover – November, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this open-minded, provocative, unsettling inquiry into the causes of evil, Baumeister rejects the entrenched view that low self-esteem causes violence and aggression. On the contrary, he argues, violent or evil people tend to have highly favorable opinions of themselves, and cross the line to commit immoral, hurtful acts when they feel their egotism is threatened by others. Among the root causes of evil he identifies are ambition, desire for power or wealth, misplaced idealistic adherence to a creed or doctrine and sadistic pleasure. He applies this framework, with varying degrees of persuasiveness, to an analysis of diverse evils: murder, rape, street crime, war, petty cruelty, emotional abuse, wife beating, government repression, racial and ethnic hatreds. A social psychologist at Case Western Reserve University, Baumeister believes that evil grows and spreads when cultures stop restraining individuals' angry, violent impulses?a process abetted by desensitization, yearnings for revenge, group conformity and inadequate socialization or upbringing. His rewarding study challenges?and complements?traditional, religion-based views of evil with a humanistic perspective. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Baumeister, a professor of social psychology, examines evil beyond the many myths associated with it, rejecting the belief that certain people possess a "pure evil" core. Instead, his survey of evil acts by people throughout history focuses more on the question of what stimuli or scenarios have led rather ordinary people to commit heinous crimes like the Holocaust. Baumeister concludes that most perpetrators do not see their actions as inherently bad and often see themselves as victims fighting for survival. Evil, he believes, is often the result of an incremental accumulation of pressures or rewards, and it is frequently connected with peer pressure, the need for acceptance, and losing one's identity to a group. Even rather idealistic people, he argues, can and will participate in the most horrible behaviors, completely believing in the right of what they're doing. A revealing and unflinching look at a subject usually ignored. Brian McCombie
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 431 pages
  • Publisher: W H Freeman & Co; First Edition edition (November 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716729024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716729020
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Margaret (hvatumm@abcbs.com) on March 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Roy examines the mechanisms in the human psyche that make evil attractive while preventing self-knowledge and recognition that what one is doing is in fact evil. It is refreshing to read that there is a time and place for guilt - according to Baumeister guilt serves as the only effective restraint on evil behavior. According to the author, evil is caused by four basic factors; desire for money or power, threatened personal egotism, idealism, and/or the prusuit of sadistic pleasure. Although people tend to assume that most evil is due to the latter cause, in reality it is rare.
In most cases people avoid perceiving their activities as evil by concentrating on the methodology of their activities, avoiding empathizing with the victim, and/or believing that the end justifies the means. Thus in order to effectively combat evil, one must expose it publicly and strip away the illusions of the perpetrators. The historical arguments for this which the author provides are compelling. I would recommend this book as good therapy for anyone who has been the victim of evil. It is also very useful as a tool to clarify choices for anyone caught up in a moral dilemma. Particularly helpful should be Roy's discussion that resulting human suffering, not personal or idealistic motivation, is the better tool for judging whether a particular planned action might be evil.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Benedict on May 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Evil", in the strict sense of the word, might best have been left out of the title of this book. Baumeister does an excellent job of explaining the inner workings of the human psyche as it pertains to cruelty and violence. These actions are deeply or thinly veiled in all humans and held in check by the strength of ones self control and/or morality. A small step at a time could lead any human to acts of cruelty or violence, scarcely noticing the descending path one has taken. I wouldn't say that this book is light reading and it is sometimes disturbing, but it is well worth the effort for anyone who seeks insight into the darker sides of humanity. Beware, you might recognise some small part of yourself within these pages.
I am a subscriber of Scientific American and was referred to this book by their recommendation.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book can be really helpful for abuse victims. I was one myself & never could understand how people could harm others or witness it & do nothing about it. This bookhelped me understand that
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