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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Hardcover – March 27, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (March 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064112
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064113
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,458 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.

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

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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

371 of 396 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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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Brennan Direnfeld on May 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Upon first glance you can tell what Dr. Zimbargo set out to do. He wanted to write a book about the dark side in everyone, use examples from real life to illustrate his point and finally provide guidance on how to stay moral. His book however, falls slightly short of this vision.

The main focus of this book is the Standfard Prison Experiment. This was a social psychology study that examined the effects of situational forces on the behaviours and actions of people. It's an interesting study and well worth the time to research on your own. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer many angles when trying to illuminate the dark side of people as a whole.

After a thorough and often-times overly detailed account of this event Dr. Zimbargo offers some insight and explanations into his findings. I thought this was the best part of the book. These are Dr. Zimbargo's own thoughts on paper and they are interesting. Furthermore, he goes onto discuss other social psychology experiments (google "Milgram Experiments")that drew similar conclusions to his study. Unfortunately, this part is not very long.

The next section of the book draws parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the environment at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This part of the book is very dry. By page 300 you've been hit over the head so many times with the Stanford Prison Experiment that it loses its awe factor.

Lastly, Dr. Zimbargo discusses how people can remain good in difficult situations. This part of the book is lacking.

All and all its a decent book. I thought it would've been better if Dr. Zimbargo relied a little less on the Stanford Prison Experiment and a little more on other mediums to explain the impact of situational forces on people.
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