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The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History Paperback – March 13, 1997

4 out of 5 stars 190 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The "Lucifer Principle" is freelance journalist Bloom's theory that evil-which manifests in violence, destructiveness and war-is woven into our biological fabric. A corollary is that evil is a by-product of nature's strategy to move the world to greater heights of organization and power as national or religious groups follow ideologies that trigger lofty ideals as well as base cruelty. In an ambitious, often provocative study, Bloom applies the ideas of sociobiology, ethology and the "killer ape" school of anthropology to the broad canvas of history, with examples ranging from Oliver Cromwell's reputed pleasure in killing and raping to Mao Tse-tung's bloody Cultural Revolution, India's caste system and Islamic fundamentalist expansion. Bloom says Americans suffer "perceptual shutdown" that blinds them to the United States' downward slide in the pecking order of nations. His use of concepts like pecking order, memes (self-replicating clusters of ideas), the "neural net" or group mind of the social "superorganism" seem more like metaphors than explanatory tools.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pop-culture Renaissance man Bloom-former PR agent for the likes of Prince, writer for Omni magazine, and so on-seeks to explain why civilizations rise and fall, why nations go to war, and why violence and aggression don't disappear with the ascendancy of culture. Big task. The "Lucifer Principle" is based on the metaphors of the "meme" (ideas that arise across cultures and epochs) and "the pecking order" (from chickens to nations, and all in between). This sort of slippery extrapolation is at once cleverly neat and maddeningly suspicious, and the pitfalls of trying to unite animal biology, genetics, cultural history, anthropology, and philosophy are apparent in that sundry causes and effects are all lumped together as equals: rats in a cage do this, "primitive" cultures do that, Sumerians did a third thing, so therefore we do this. The 800 footnotes are symptomatic: sources range from the Information Please Almanac to a textbook on surgical nursing and a sprinkling of audiobooks. This book falls somewhere between Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (LJ 12/87) and John Naisbitt's Megatrends (LJ 10/1/82). For general audiences.
Mark L. Shelton, Worcester, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (March 13, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871136643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871136640
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on October 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a very provocative speculation about the nature of human beings and human groups. It is built on biological science, but interpreted in a highly idiosyncratic way. A definite page-turner, with a lot of scientific and some scholarly references, but how accurate is it?
This is a selective but often chillingly familiar guided tour through human history. Bloom cleverly and casually crosses fields of study, sometimes metaphorically and sometimes making literal comparisons, and often being unclear as to which he intends. The result is an intriguing mixture of science, historical interpretation, and science fiction. The flavor is distinctly Darwinian, but with a twist.
"The Lucifer Principle" itself is a simple acknowledgement that in the natural world we take the bad with the good, often as the flip side of the good. The same forces that promote cooperation also promote barbarity.
Bloom starts out with a vivid presentation of the Darwinian vision emphasizing the competition of vehicles for the benefit of their replicators, the "selfish gene" theme at its most lurid. "Survival of the fittest" has its way. At that point, Bloom introduces the twist. He proposes something that sociologists latched on to, but which most evolutionary theorists of recent years have avoided like the plague. He raises the spectre of the "superorganism."

The superorganism was once a popular theme of old structuralist anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss, who saw society as a complex machine driven with the help of a common cognitive structure of individuals in terms of certain themes. Bloom's superorganism is a much more ambiguous blob, held together by "memes" which hook into our primitive drives.
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Format: Paperback
Howard Bloom's central thesis here is that nation states, tribes, and other human conglomerates are "superorganisms" held together by memes, that is to say, shared ideas. From this he has it follow that it is the health of the superorganism that counts and not the individual. Individuals are likened to the cells of a larger body. They are expendable, and indeed programed to die in order to serve the collective good. The Lucifer Principle itself is our commitment to savagery as the way to settle differences.
This is an old and hoary thesis familiar to all who have studied history, and it is from history that Bloom garners his most impressive evidence. He recalls a litany of genocides and murders from the brutal campaigns of the Roman empire through the Crusades and the conquest of the Americas to the Saddam Husseins, the Ayatollahs, and Pol Pots of today. He also draws on evidence from biology, citing the murderous tendencies of apes and the automatic homicides of ants and other social insects. He goes to great lengths to show that the pecking orders in chickens and rats are similar to those in humans and that when these orders are disturbed or unsettled, violence of the most savage sort ensues. In the end he proposes a pecking order of superorganisms, and using this metaphor, attempts to explain why various nations and religions have to this very day slaughtered one another. Along the way he warns us to remain strong militarily and economically against the barbarians at the gate.
What sets The Lucifer Principle apart from other books with a similar message is Bloom's stark and engaging style and the unrelenting flood of evidence he presents festooned with 782 footnotes and a 40-page bibliography.
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Format: Paperback
Bloom's claim that his book is a "Scientific Expedition" is what caught my interest in the bookstore, and turned out to be the basis of the betrayal I felt at reading it. While there may be some interesting (and perhaps even true!) ideas presented in the book, the fact is that the presentation undermines them so badly that it is hard to give credibility to any of them. Obviously, Bloom is well equipped with an arsenal of historical fact. However, his use of historical anecdote to "prove" points should rankle anyone familiar with careful scientific thought. Examples can be found in history to prove virtually any point, and Bloom lacks compelling evidence to support his thoughts. Most offensive to my sensibilities were his lumping of all Islamic and Native American cultures as inheretly violent. His evidence that this is the nature of Native Americans? Well, the "bloodthirsty savage" passage was written by someone who many Native Americans considered a friend! (I can just see this historian; "No, really, some of my best friends are Indians!") What bothered me more than anything, however, was Bloom's relentless abuse of the ideas of Richard Dawkins. He rides Dawkin's thinking on "memes as replicators" to an absurd horizon. At the same time, he promotes his "superorganism" concept, which has none of the properties of replication. He bases this "superorganism" idea on a group selectionist argument that has been debunked so thorougly that I find it hard to believe that he didn't deliberately omit the counterarguments. Personally, I was familiar enough with Dawkin's Selfish Gene theory to see the gaping holes in Bloom's thinking.Read more ›
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