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Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty Paperback – March 19, 1999


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Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty + Understanding Violence + The Psychology of Prejudice: From Attitudes to Social Action
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (March 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805071652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805071658
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

The question of why people hurt others is perhaps humanity's oldest and most urgent, long the subject of literature and religion. Can social science provide any answers? Social psychologist Baumeister assembles the available research, such as experiments on how people justify small transgressions and react to hypothetical situations, as well as close readings of accounts by murderers, rapists and torturers. He concludes that "pure evil"--brutality inflicted on innocent victims for sadistic pleasure--is largely a myth. Most violence springs from the same sources as other human behavior: ambition, lust, fear, pride, idealism. It breaks out when self-control breaks down, often because of group pressures or a slow escalation from seemingly innocuous decisions. Most perpetrators do not enjoy their acts, at least at first, but feel they must be done. "To understand evil,"Baumeister writes, "we must set aside the comfortable belief that we would never do anything wrong. Instead, we must begin to ask ourselves, what would it take for me to do such things?" Although few of these ideas are original to Baumeister, and the book is sometimes pedantic, it is a worthy synthesis both for victims who want to know why and for policymakers who need to know what to do. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book to any fan of psychology.
E.Harrison
It is also extremely well written, accessible to the general reader and generously illustrated with examples from history and current events.
George T. Brunelle
To summarize, this work is probably the best research-based study of the psychology of human mass violence currently on the market.
robert holson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 75 people found the following review helpful By George T. Brunelle on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the book for anyone who has ever been the victim of a crime and wishes to understand how or why it happened, or whose profession requires frequent contact with perpetrators of evil and who needs to understand the thinking process of such people. I have read several other books on the subject, mostly approaching it from the perspectives of literature, religion or mythology, but these works tend to provide unsatisfying answers to the basic questions of what inspires evil and what causes it to spread. Dr. Baumeister's work answers both of these questions convincingly, along with many others, such as why evil people almost never consider themselves to be evil; why there is not more evil in the world, considering how often evil goes unpunished; why revenge is usually disproportionate to the initial offense and why it settles nothing and often inspires further and greater evil; why drugs and alcohol so often accompany evil and whether they are actually a cause of evil; whether low self-esteem or high self-esteem is more conducive to evil, and the role which self-esteem, and challenges to self-esteem, play in the initiation of evil; and how the perpetrators of evil manage to live with themselves. This is not only the best book I have ever read on the subject; it is the only one I have read which approaches the problem from the standpoint of empirical research rather than mere ideology. It is also extremely well written, accessible to the general reader and generously illustrated with examples from history and current events.
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72 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Paul Vitols on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Important topic, promising approach, but the insights offered are too few and too shallow.

I bought this book partly on the strength of its readers' reviews here on Amazon, but found myself disappointed. The book's subtitle, "inside human violence and cruelty," promises much, but the author, I feel, has not really delivered.

A social psychologist, Baumeister avoids a philosophical and theological discussion of evil in favor of a psychological one, based on facts gleaned from history and experiment. This approach is attractive and promising, but somehow, in almost 400 long pages, not much seems to come of it. Too often I felt that the insights offered by Baumeister were mere banalities, such as that evil acts are experienced more strongly by victims than by their perpetrators--a point Baumeister repeats many, many times.

The author uses this observation to conclude that "evil is in the eye of the beholder"--and even launches the book with a clever anecdote about an event in which two people see each other as evildoers, despite no intentional act of harm being committed. But this is surely a special case, and not comparable to the operation of a system of death-camps, or hacking apart defenseless people huddling for safety in a church. Baumeister takes pains (repeatedly) to stress that he wants to see evil acts through the perpetrators' eyes, and not prejudge events from the perspective of victims, but the result is an uneasy or indecisive tone that wavers between a normal-sounding condemnation of evil and a moral relativism that really believes that evil is merely in the eye of the beholder--that is, there's no such thing as evil, as long as you're the one perpetrating it.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By robert holson on January 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
In the course of reviewing over 20 books on the topic of human violence and mass murder, I found this to be far and away the best. Some obviously have problems with the author's attempts to understand and not just demonize killers. I can think of no other way of getting into the heads of those who commit violence in the name of a state, an ideology, an ethnic group, a religion or indeed any other belief system. Confronting the "banality of evil" is indeed an unpleasant exercise, but necessary if we are ever to achieve a deeper understanding of our greatest failing as a species. To summarize, this work is probably the best research-based study of the psychology of human mass violence currently on the market.
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16 of 18 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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