The concept of evil has been much bandied about of late, so it is refreshing to see an attempt to bring a discussion of its machinations to the public forum. Hart begins by groping for a workable definition of evil and uses his starting point--specifically, that evil is an "intentional human act that causes extreme harm to innocents and attacks our basic moral order"--to set up a philosophical, historical, and literary tour of Bad Things. Condensing 4,000-odd years of human grappling into a book that is brief and, yes, lighthearted enough to be airport fare is difficult, and Hart deserves praise for presenting a broad range of complex ideas so concisely and accessibly. He also gets credit for having the guts to remind us that we like doing evil things, or at least naughty things. Concision has its flip side, however, and this book's often-flippant eclecticism borders on superficiality; the short shrift that Hart grants unintentional, systemic, banal evil is particularly troubling.
As a primer, Hart's book has its qualities. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"William Hart's Evil: A Primer is an engaging survey of the very complex problems that litter the conceptual geography of evil. He invites us to look at a roots of the concept and its relationship to religious beliefs and geopolitical issues. He explores the black depths of our intellectual and social history and reveals for us, in a clear and concise fashion, what we all need to be thinking about when politicians, religious leaders, and terrorists use the term 'evil' to describe their enemies. We have heard a great deal in recent years of evil empires and 'the axis of evil,' of evil people and evil actions. William Hart's book provides a foundation for all of us to put such evocations of evil in a proper context."
- Professor Peter A. French, Lincoln Chair in Ethics, Arizona State University and author of Cowboy Metaphysics and The Virtue of Vengeance