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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Paperback – January 22, 2008

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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil + Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (Perennial Classics) + Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974447
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Psychologist Zimbardo masterminded the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which college students randomly assigned to be guards or inmates found themselves enacting sadistic abuse or abject submissiveness. In this penetrating investigation, he revisits—at great length and with much hand-wringing—the SPE study and applies it to historical examples of injustice and atrocity, especially the Abu Ghraib outrages by the U.S. military. His troubling finding is that almost anyone, given the right "situational" influences, can be made to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in violence and oppression. (He tacks on a feel-good chapter about "the banality of heroism," with tips on how to resist malign situational pressures.) The author, who was an expert defense witness at the court-martial of an Abu Ghraib guard, argues against focusing on the dispositions of perpetrators of abuse; he insists that we blame the situation and the "system" that constructed it, and mounts an extended indictment of the architects of the Abu Ghraib system, including President Bush. Combining a dense but readable and often engrossing exposition of social psychology research with an impassioned moral seriousness, Zimbardo challenges readers to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world's ills. 23 photos. (Apr. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Social psychologist Zimbardo is best known as the father of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which used a simulated prison populated with student volunteers to illustrate the extent to which identity is situated within a social setting; student volunteers randomly chosen to play guards became cruel and authoritarian, while those playing inmates became rebellious and depressed. With this book, Zimbardo couples a thorough narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment with an analysis of the social dynamics of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, arguing that the "experimental dehumanization" of the former is instructive in understanding the abusive conduct of guards at the latter. This comparison, which is the book's core insight, is embedded in a sprawling discussion about situational influences that cobbles together a discussion of the psychology of evil, a strong criticism of the Bush administration, and a chapter celebrating heroism and calling for greater social bravery. This account's Abu Ghraib focus will generate demand. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

When I found he had finally written a book on it, I was very excited.
Zimbardo is best known for conducting an decades-prior experiment at Stanford in which student volunteers were randomly assigned to be either guards or prisoners.
Loyd E. Eskildson
Basically, it deals with the issue of why seemingly good and moral people can do bad and immoral things.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

370 of 395 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on April 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment from the early 70's used college students for a study, making half of them prisoners and the other half guards. With instructions meant to polarize, the worst in human nature quickly came out, and the experiment had to be discontinued prematurely. Unlike other important studies, this one could not be duplicated because of ethical concerns, but many similar studies have been done - most of them validating Zimbardo's result: that with few exceptions, the best of us can be coerced to perform evil acts under the right social circumstances. A book about Zimbardo's findings is long overdue. The incident at Abu Ghraib and his participation in the trial sparked his enthusiasm to share this story with us.

Chapter I - According to the story in the Bible, Lucifer, God's favorite angel, challenged God's authority - thus began the transformation of Lucifer into Satan. Zimbardo finds here an analogy to the situation in all wars, where men routinely justify being inhumane to other men, despite clear direction otherwise from the Geneva Convention.

Chapters II - IX - Zimbardo had 24-hour audio and video surveillance of the prison and kept meticulous written notes. He presents verbatim transcripts of tense conversation and photographs. A variety of situations from world history are presented showing disturbing descriptions of torture, rape, and general abuse of a captured, helpless enemy. He then draws analogies between real history and the Stanford prison experiment.

Chapters X - XI - Elaboration on the importance, ethical considerations, and notoriety of the Stanford prison experiment. If you Google "experiment," the first website listed is this one, out of a potential 300 million.
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121 of 129 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Keats on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The premise of this book is captivating, and I read it almost immediately after seeing Dr. Zimbardo on the Daily Show, where I learned of it. The first 2/3rds of this book are fascinating, particularly the account of the Stanford Prison Experiment and subsequent experiments regarding the human capacity for evil. I greatly admire Zimbardo, but the book is not what I expected.

The first 66% of the book is psychological, and it seems to me that the last 33% is more historical and political. I started to lose interest during the analysis of Abu Ghraib because it was just repeating the concepts we had learned earlier in the book, and was no longer new and intriguing. The book was just way too long, period, to cover the same themes - deindividuization, dehumanization, etc., etc. I wanted more from this book than it delivered, but it was still worth reading.
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123 of 137 people found the following review helpful By David Maxfield on April 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the breathtaking culmination of more than 30 years of careful research into the causes of evil. Dr Zimbardo, Stanford professor, former president of the American Psychological Association, host of the PBS series Psychology, and author of the bestselling introductory psychology text of all time, has devoted nearly all of his academic career to careful studies of the path between good and evil.

His dozens of research papers have documented how environmental and social forces can push even the best of us toward bad behavior. Even more importantly, he has documented the steps we can take as individuals and as societies to become more humane. His findings are widely respected within the academic community. This is not "controversial" stuff; it's the right stuff.

Dr. Zimbardo's review of the field is lively and engaging. Then, he brings us new findings and shows how they apply in ways that can powerfully change lives. This is an exciting book that needs to be widely read.

David Maxfield

Vice President of Research

VitalSmarts LC
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Mariusz Ozminkowski on September 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is no question that Zimbardo is a great scholar and that he had spent years, decades, studying this subject. Yet, good scholarship doesn't always translate to good writing. This is a thick (literary and otherwise) book. The overall argument presented by Zimbardo is clear, but it feels that it is bogged down by so many details. There are pages after pages of transcripts from the original study. And here is the point. It all depends what you expect. If you want very detailed account of the 1971 study, that's what you get. Clear, detailed, well-supported and well-explained. If you look mainly for straightfoward answers to the question how good people turn evil, this book could be a difficult read.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Blue Herion on February 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
The book started off strong, the opening chapter to the book gave a very dark and dismal look into the nature of humans all over the world, from Nazis, to Rwanda, to Prisoners of War in general, humans have found very disturbing and twisted ways of punishing and dominating over others. The beginning of the book was so bleak and upsetting that I ended up putting the book aside and crying over the lack of humanity of my fellow human beings. I wanted to continue on because the author stated that to guard oneself against this tide of darkness, one must first see the depths of the despair and learn how people, who are very much like me and you, came to place.

The next the author takes us to his Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). I multiple problems with this study. First off, the guards had no training what so ever to be guards, in fact, they were told that they needed to dehumanize and deindividuate the prisoners to bring on a sense of hopelessness and despair and that they could have complete and total control over everything the prisoners experienced. Well, with orienting the guards in that manner it is no wonder how things went the way they did. Not to mention that if any of the guards showed humanity they were taken aside and told to do a better job by showing more authority and reigning in any type of compassion for the prisoners. There are many other things about the experiment that were upsetting, from the fact that prisoners felt they could not leave and it seemed they couldn't, not even when they said they wished to leave because it wasn't given as a direct command only a wanting, to the mock-parole hearings that further confused and shamed the prisoners, to the complete lack of oversight, expect reminders to dehumanize the prisoners and not to physically abuse them.
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