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4.1 out of 5 stars
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty
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71 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2001
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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2003
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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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2006
This remarkable book begins to give us a firm basis for hope, because it provides a deep and accurate understanding of evil. This well researched and well written book examines and discredits the "myth of pure evil", and instead rigorously examines the point of view of real perpetrators to understand the true causes of evil.

After adopting the simple definition of "intentional harm to other people", the author identifies the four roots of evil as greed, egotism, idealism, and sadism, and explores each of these in depth. He dispels the popular misunderstanding that low self-esteem is a major contributor to violent behavior. Instead his careful analysis establishes that people who have high self-esteem, but lack a firm basis for that belief, are especially prone to be violent. He describes how an ordinary person crosses the line into evil, how evil spreads, and how perpetrators deal with guilt. After examining the provocative question of "why is there not more evil" he describes the central role of self-control in preventing evil. He also describes how typical bystanders often unwittingly contribute to evil acts.

Central to the analysis is the principle he calls the "magnitude gap." This describes the discrepancy between the importance of an evil act to the perpetrator and the victim. This magnitude gap accounts for the rapid escalation of violence that is so typical in retaliation. The response chosen to avenge each provocation is amplified at each round to account for the victim's point of view.

Because lasting peace will come only from a profound understanding of violence, the analysis and insight this book provides is an important contribution toward a more peaceful world.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2003
I picked up this book thinking it would be a study of serial killers or something. I was happily surprised to find a well written book about the myth of evil. Baumiester does a good job of introducing difficult concepts that challenge our belief systems. One particularly interesting facet of his theory is the "perception gap" between the victims of evil and the perpetrators of evil. Baumiester uses both scientific research and real-life examples (O.J., Sadaam Hussien, Bosnia) to illustrate his points, making the information very accessible. As a writer, I found the information on what causes people to commit evil actions fascinating and helpful in creating fictional characters with dimension. As a someone who works in the prevention field, I applied his theory about egotism and violence to school bullies. This book is a must read for writers, teachers, law enforcement, prevention specialist, counselors and so forth. This book will definately make you think.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2002
If you read this carefully, allowing the author to make his points, this will change the way you see your world in some very constructive ways. Baumeister shows great skill in drawing together and presenting material from a number of disciplines.The word "thought-provoking" is an understatement..
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2000
This book is not for those weak of mind or with a short attention span. The book is scientific in nature, and thusly, has a great deal of facts and examples to support his hypotheses. Though his examples bolster his opinion and thought process, he often goes overboard on their usage and the reading often becomes very tedious. This book is meant to be digested slowly and pondered on throughout. If you want a clear-cut answer on evil read the Bible, because at the end of this book you should have more questions than answers. This book is meant to catalyze thoughts and often Baumeister went after strongly held beliefs and attacked them straight on, making us consider their validity. Baumeister wrote this book for a thoughtful, tolerant, and patient reader who wants to expand their mind. Before you consider reading this book honestly ask yourself if this is the kind of person you are. If this isn't you, don't bother reading this book because you will hate every moment you spend struggling through it. On the other hand if you believe this is the kind of reader you are, this book will be a gratifying intellectual challenge that will help you better understand yourself and bring light to your own notions of evil.
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on August 8, 2013
This book is deep. I'm really enjoying reading it. He covers a lot more subject matter then I thought would be covered. Subjects range from Hittler, Stalin, to religious hatered, to domestic abuse. I think it's an extremely Intresting book. I haven't finished it yet and I consider it a slow read. Iam taking my time reading it and I do reread alot of the material. It is a subject of interest. Thank you
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I found this book extremely disturbing because it demonstrates that anybody is capable of performing evil acts. In fact, it doesn't take much to hurt others, according to Baumeister's wealth of data. At the same time, however, the book is enlightning because it provides the tools to understand and avoid evil. Sensible people will take a lot out of this book. I highly recommend it.
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on October 2, 2013
interesting material, I would recommend this book to everyone. however It is a little violent and I would keep it out of the hands of sensitive audiences.
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