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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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

Review

"A revealing and unflinching look at a subject usually ignored." -- Booklist

"An impressive book." -- New Scientist

"Blending material from history, literature, philosophy, and anthropology, Baumeister has skillfully presented a picture of the nature of the evil that people do, a picture often at odds with popular and mythological ones." -- Russell G. Geen, Curators Professor of Psychology University of Missouri

"I once met a man who commanded a squad that executed some 10,000 men, women, and children with axes and hoes. Today that man is a humble farmer. I have often wondered what he dreams. Baumeister helps us to see into the dreams of such perpetrators and, indeed, into our own darkest dreams." -- Craig Etcheson, Ph.D. Manager, Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University

"This is the most important work I have read on the nature of evil." -- Brad J. Bushman, Iowa State University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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I feel, this book is well worth reading for anybody interested in this part of social science.
PST
It is also extremely well written, accessible to the general reader and generously illustrated with examples from history and current events.
George B.
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 B. 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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73 of 85 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 22 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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jack D. Eller on June 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I have taught a course on violence and culture for a few years, and the last few times I have taught it, I have included this book as a required reading. It is smart, organized, and engaging. Students really enjoy it for its analytical clarity and its rich descriptions. It is an important read for anyone interested in the human roots of violence.

As he points out, the "myth of pure evil" asserts that "evil" is a force or entity apart from us, rather than behavior that we engage in. WE are always good and innocent, but THEY are always evil and solely responsible for the bad in our life. That is just silly.

Baumeister's analyses of the group effect, the root causes of violence (we should stop using the term "evil" altogether, since one person's evil is another person's noble truth), the escalating factors, and more are valuable to anyone who is seriously interested in why we normal regular humans perform violence sometimes and even feel good about it...or feel nothing at all.

I integrated insights from this book, as well as many other sources, including Zimbardo's work, Kreisberg's work, and many cross-cultural studies into my own recent book, "Violence and Culture" (Wadsworth 2005). If we want to do anything about violence, we must understand it realistically, not just attribute it to some irrational, foreign, and sadistic force or being that could never just be us. As Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments illustrated, it could be and has been us.
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