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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: #557,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume International Herald Tribune I recommend this book to health professionals looking for a deeper understanding of altruism and its motivation. The arguments are clear and scholarly, and supported by a wealth of references. Nursing Standard By showing the mix of good intentions with themes such as hording, self-righteousness, and addictions that are taken to extremes, authors provide readers with a strong understanding of how people alleviate their own personal distress by trying to help others. Specific chapters offer varied insights into how altruism affects self-care, relationships, and civic engagement. Taken as a whole, the book helps readers better imagine how they might participate in civil discourse. PsycCRITIQUES, March 2013

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

4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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