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Pathological Altruism Hardcover – December 19, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0199738571 ISBN-10: 0199738572 Edition: 1st

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Pathological Altruism + Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts + Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199738572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199738571
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 6.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"A scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume...The book is the first comprehensive treatment of the idea that when ostensibly generous 'how can I help you?' behavior is taken to extremes, misapplied or stridently rhapsodized, it can become unhelpful, unproductive and even destructive."
--Natalie Angier, The New York Times


"What a wonderful book! This is one of the few books in evolutionary biology I've read in the past ten years that taught me something completely new."
-Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University


"The coverage of topics is breathtaking.... The reader will emerge with a much deeper and nuanced understanding of altruism in reading this book, the best on altruism in the last 15 years."
-Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley; author of Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life


"This unique volume manages the impressive feat of pulling together the best research from psychology, genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and law on well-meaning but ultimately harmful forms of self-sacrifice. It will forever change the way you look at altruism."
-Sharon Begley, Science Editor, Newsweek, and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain


"An essential reading for anyone who truly cares about helping others."
-Paul Zak, Professor of Economics, Claremont Graduate University, and co-editor of Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy


"What is grand about the collection is that light pours in through every contribution, and even the glare of competing views can reveal dark assumptions."
-Robert J. Richards, Morris Fishbein Professor of Science and Medicine, The University of Chicago, and author of Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (winner of the Pfizer Prize in History of Science)


"This volume is unique in examining 'pathological altruism' from various angles with unfailing insight and depth."
-Elkhonon Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Neurology, New York University School of Medicine, and author of The New Executive Brain,The Wisdom Paradox, and The Executive Brain


'''Be careful what you wish for' might be one way of summing up the take-home message of this strikingly original book, highlighting the fact that 'more is not always better' when it comes to either being the altruist or the recipient of altruism."
-Jay Belsky, Professor of Pyschology; Birkbeck University of London


"Is pathological altruism a disease, an addiction, an evolutionary relic, or perhaps a mirage? This is a wonderfully engaging and thought provoking book; you may not agree with all of its arguments, but you'll never look at kindness quite the same way again."
-Oren Harman, Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society, Bar Ilan University, Israel, and author of The Price of Altruism


"It is rare-actually, probably unprecedented-to find in a single volume discussions of the moral right to sell one's kidney, of friends who enable an alcoholic's benders out of a misplaced sense of empathy, of people who hoard animals (the not-at-all apocryphal crazy neighbor who lives with 87 cats), of the psychological motivations of suicide bombers, of the genetics of individualism and collectivism, and of the frequent failings of well-intentioned foreign aid programs. This is that rare, if not unique, volume. It manages the impressive feat of pulling together the best research from psychology, genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and law on well-meaning but ultimately harmful forms of self-sacrifice. It will forever change the way you look at altruism." --Sharon Begley, Science Editor, Newsweek, and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain


"Can there be too much of a good thing? Surely, eating too many chocolate chip cookies will lead to a sore stomach, but too much altruism bringing about harm?! In Pathological Altruism, experts in diverse fields consider the phenomenon of radical altruism, from battered women to suicide martyrs, and from autistic people to foreign aid givers, and all the way to Mahatma Gandhi. Is pathological altruism a disease, an addiction, an evolutionary relic, or perhaps a mirage? This is a wonderfully engaging and thought provoking book: you may not agree with all of its arguments, but you'll never look at kindness quite the same way again." --Oren Harman, Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University, Israel, and author of The Price of Altruism


"WOW-what a book! Can one be too nice? In this fascinating volume Barbara Oakley and her collaborators show how altruism can bleed into misplaced, excessive, self-righteous, or self-serving pathologies. Why this occurs and its societal implications make this book essential reading for anyone who truly cares about helping others." --Paul Zak, Professor of Economics and Director, Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Claremont Graduate University, co-editor of Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy


"Pathological altruism? Sounds like an oxymoron, but this fascinating book quickly convinces you that altruism can go seriously mad and bad. The great breadth and quality of contributors to this book from psychiatry, psychology, and philosophy - and that's just the 'P's' - shed light on the dark side of our evolutionary propensity towards altruism, which can be subverted to a wide range of pathologies such as survivor guilt, drug co-dependency, personality disorders, and eating disorders. When within-group altruism is exploited to between-group hostility, it can lead to suicide martyrdom and genocide." --Robert Plomin, MRC Research Professor and Deputy Director, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London; author of Behavioral Genetics (now in its 5th edition), and past-president of the Behavior Genetics Association


"What most of us perceive as unmitigated evil, its perpetrators sometimes regard as self-sacrifice in the name of some delusional cause. Suicide bombers, terrorists, messianic cult leaders guiding their following to self-destruction usually think of their heinous acts as benefiting humanity at the cost of self-deprecation. So did Adolf Hitler. To understand such behaviors, it is necessary to understand 'pathological altruism' in its many manifestations. This volume is unique in examining 'pathological altruism' from various angles with unfailing insight and depth. The book will be an invaluable source for psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, historians, criminologists, as well as fascinating reading for the general educated public." --Elkhonon Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Neurology, New York University School of Medicine and author of New Executive Brain, Wisdom Paradox, and Executive Brain


"Read this book. You will learn much that would be new to you, whatever your expertise or interest. And I would be surprised if you don't enjoy this voyage of discovery."
-Francisco J. Ayala, Templeton Prize Laureate and University Professor, University of California, Irvine


"It will lead the way for future investigators and scientists to open the doors of inquiry into a new and most interesting field of inquiry. It is well done, reader friendly, and highly praised by leaders in the scientific and educational communities. I will add my praise to those and recommend it highly." -- Lois Bennett, Ph.D., New York Journal of Books


"Overall, this is a well-written, easily comprehensible collection of typological (epidemiological) investigations into "altruism's gloomy underbelly" (p. 7)asserting that "some people are pathological altruists in their essence" (Krueger, p. 298). From its seemingly oxymoronic title to the final chapter, the content flows logically in a coherent, clear, and convincing presentation of all aspects of altruism. Ultimately, the book adds to the growing scientific examination of empathy and prosocial behavior. It is a must read for clinicians and researchers interested in these fields." -- Lora Humphrey Beebe, PhD, Issues in Mental Health Nursing


"Apparently not, at least for a lot of people. One of the best pieces in Pathological Altruism is David Brin's chapter on addiction to indignation: "Self-addiction and Self-righteousness." You might see why looking to feel outraged as often as you can is pathological, but how could overweening, self-righteous huffiness ever be described as altruistic?" -- Los Angeles Review of Books


"This book offers a well-balanced sense of how altruistic acts can cause harm to the self, to
any intended target(s), and to society at large. Although not organized into these categories,
Pathological Altruism highlights the problems that can emerge when personal, civic, and
civil agendas are left unchallenged." -- PsycCRITIQUES


About the Author


Barbara Oakley is an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan. Her work focuses on the complex relationship between social behavior and neuroscience. Her books include Cold-Blooded Kindness (Prometheus Books, 2011) and Evil Genes (Prometheus Books, 2007).

Ariel Knafo is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research deals with the genetic and environmental contributions to empathy and altruism and how children's genetics affect their behavior and the way parents react to them.

Guruprasad Madhavan, a bioengineer, is a program officer in policy and global affairs at the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council - collectively called the National Academies - in Washington, DC. He is senior co-editor of Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (Springer, 2008).

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. His books include The Neighborhood Project (Little, Brown, 2011), Evolution for Everyone (Delacorte, 2007), Darwin's Cathedral (Chicago, 2002), and Unto Others (Harvard,1998).

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Customer Reviews

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I'm still working my way through this book.
Monica Hess
It is very true that not all tests in the social sciences conform to the rigorous standards of statistics and sampling techniques.
Graham H. Seibert
It should be required reading in any university "helping profession" curriculum as well as for every politician in office.
Marlin Newburn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Marlin Newburn on June 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is long overdue, and I don't think this topic has ever been seriously addressed in the behavioral health domain. Of particular interest to me, as a clinical psychologist, is how the information in this book illustrates the phenomenon of infantalizing people or otherwise restricting their emotional growth which then renders them, from a developmental standpoint, perpetual adolescents and thus pathologically dependent on others. The research provided by the multiple contributors to this amazing book provides very convincing, if not concrete, examples of doing for adults what they can do for themselves, and how it harms them for a lifetime. It also covers the areas where narcissistic individuals, to include doctors, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, and politicians, "do for others" against the others' wishes. To infantilize someone the process is simple: Take over or dismiss their decision making process, remove personal responsibility, remove lessons or consequences for life choices, and then blame other people or institutions for the disastrous personal choices one makes. As well, to continue to save someone from him or herself is the primary construct of the infantalization process. The targets of pathological "care" never learn to adapt to life's slings and arrows, they never learn critical thinking skills, and they remain vulnerable, controllable, and dependent on others for their daily life decisions. This incredible book describes the process thoroughly. It should be required reading in any university "helping profession" curriculum as well as for every politician in office. To those who insist on cradle to grave "caring" of others, you may need therapy after reading this book.

An update on 4/12/14: At my request, and after two of my undergrad psychology students presented a paper on it, this incredible book now sits on a shelf in the library of Lake Superior State University (Michigan) where I teach.
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This collection of papers explores many different manifestations of pathological altruism. One of the most extreme would be suicide bombers. A couple of the papers explore the cultural dimension of suicide bombers. What they do is reprehensible in according to Western cultural values, but may make sense, and indeed be altruistic, by the whites of the cultures in which the suicide bombers act. Likewise beheadings, to name one that they cite. We in the West look at beheadings is incredibly barbarous acts, but in another culture that is simply a means of dealing with crime. Other pathological altruists may be super patriots, military men who give their lives for other people and their units, battered wives who enable their husbands, likewise the wives of alcoholics who enable their husbands, people with eating disorders, cat ladies who supposedly taking care of animals actually affirm the men themselves, foreign aid donors, who are motivated more by the good feeling that comes with giving then the actual benefits of long-term benefits received by the beneficiaries. In this case they cite Linda Polman's book, The Crisis Caravan (which I reviewed) among others.

Science builds on theories. A theory starts out as a wild hunch. That hunch will be consistent with certain observations. The scientist posits it as a theory and devises future tests. The test cannot prove that a theory is true, but they can prove that they are false. The theory which stands up to efforts to prove its falsehood for long enough becomes generally accepted. Theories thus move from the fringe, believed by a few, to being mainstream over a period of several years. A recent example would be the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Pigtails on April 17, 2012
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Pathological Altruism should be a subject taught in medical school as well as any professional school that deals with the psyche. It's certainly a controversial topic but it also one that needs more attention. Barbara Oakley's book seems well researched and provocative. It sheds light on a well known subject that few of us ever discuss or label as such. Who could think that true altruism would be anything but genuine? As Barbara Oakley's book suggest, altruism can often be the back door to hell!
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