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The Psychology of Genocide: Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Rescuers [Paperback]

Steven K. Baum
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 7, 2008 0521713927 978-0521713924 1
Genocide has tragically claimed the lives of over 262 million victims in the last century. Jews, Armenians, Cambodians, Darfurians, Kosovons, Rwandans, the list seems endless. Clinical psychologist Steven K. Baum sets out to examine the psychological patterns to these atrocities. Building on trait theory as well as social psychology he reanalyzes key conformity studies (including the famous experiments of Ash, Millgram and Zimbardo) to bring forth an understanding of identity and emotional development during genocide. Baum presents a model that demonstrates how people's actions during genocide actually mirror their behaviour in everyday life: there are those who destruct (perpetrators), those who help (rescuers) and those who remain uninvolved, positioning themselves between the two extremes (bystanders). Combining eyewitness accounts with Baum's own analysis, this book reveals the common mental and emotional traits among perpetrators, bystanders and rescuers and how a war between personal and social identity accounts for these divisions.

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The Psychology of Genocide: Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Rescuers + A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
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Editorial Reviews


"A combination of contemporary and historical examples brings Baum's thesis to life, helping to possibly explain major events of the past and guide us to a better understanding of the challenges of the present."
--Jeff Rudski, Department of Psychology, Muhlenberg College

"Steven K. Baum, the author of The Psychology of Genocide: Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Rescuers, reads widely. One cannot help but be impressed by the breadth of the material he draws on to make his case for the central role of emotional development in determining who will become a perpetrator, who will become a rescuer, and who will simply be a bystander when groups of human beings are targeted for extermination. The extent of his coverage of relevant research by social psychologists is especially admirable;..."
--Leonard S. Newman, PsycCRITIQUES

Book Description

Genocide has tragically claimed the lives of over 262 million victims in the last century. Are there really psychological patterns to these senseless killings? Combining eyewitness accounts with Baum's own analysis, this extraordinary book will prove an invaluable source for students of holocaust studies, psychology of hate and genocide studies.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521713927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521713924
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
It is hard to criticise anyone seeking to understand a phenomenon as morally pressing as genocide. Steven K. Baum's 'The Psychology of Genocide' gives the impression that its author is a truly humane individual, emotionally moved by and deeply concerned with genocide and its prevention. But with a subject matter so important, it is all the more crucial to ensure that its academic study is held to the highest standards. The stakes - in terms of genuine public understanding and preventive implications - are just too high. It is thus deeply regrettable to report that this is a dreadfully problematic book - not due to its initial theoretical aims (with which I have much intuitive sympathy) but because of the egregiously poor standards of method which underpin the effort to advance them.

Baum's core thesis is not without merit or importance. He advances two main claims: (1) that traditional models of participation in violence and cruelty have overlooked the role of individual personality traits and (2) that theories of moral and emotional development provide the resources to fill this void. The former claim certainly contains much validity, and the second is interesting and certainly seems to warrant investigation. Given the sound concerns underlying Baum's position, this, as one reviewer put it, "really ought to be a good book" (see David Smith in 'Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews' 38(5)), and it remains a standpoint I would like to see seriously substantiated.

Unfortunately, 'The Psychology of Genocide' fails to achieve this task. It is simply one of the most methodologically unsound academic books I have ever encountered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Subject is better treated elsewhere. February 8, 2012
By Arvad
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At the beginning the author states that he will not use the term evil, which begs the question, how does one write a book about good and evil without calling it by name? And if the kind of hatred that leads to genocide cannot be called evil, what name does it go by? In this book there is a great deal of shallow thinking along with what appears to be befuddled thinking as well. The author appears to take the position that combating evil is morally equivalent to combating good.

There is some good information here along with mentions of sound research, such as studies by Milgram and Krebs & Van Hesteren, but you really have to look for it. While this book might be laudable in its attempted understanding of how societies can permit genocide, the author is unwilling recognize that the kind of thinking that places the importance of the individual below that of the group is at the core of mass murder.

I would strongly recommend Stanley Milgrams "Obedience to Authority" over this book for anyone interested in this subject.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Analyzing Evil February 26, 2012
By L. King
Format:Kindle Edition
A useful lens for examining the kind of personality who would be attracted to genocidal movements and a reasonable starting point for other material such as the Milgram experiments, research on Nazi attitudes towards their "work", the ideology of terrorism and contemporary massacres such as the Rwandan genocide, supplemented with a good number of illustrative examples.

'I got into it, no problem, " says one gang member. "Killing is easier than farming", reported another. Each describes what it was like the first time he killed someone, what he felt like when he killed a mother and child, how he reacted when he killed a cordial acquaintance, how cutting a person with a machete differed from cutting a calf or a sugarcane. Some offenders claim that we changed into wild animals, that we were blinded by ferocity... that is a trick to sidetrack the truth. I can say that outside the marshes our lives seemed quite ordinary. .... We swapped gossip at the cabaret, we made bets on our victim, spoke mockingly of cut girls, squabbled foolishly over looted grain. We sharpened our tools on whetting stones. We traded stories about desperate Tutsi tricks, we made fun of every "Mercy!" cried by someone who'd been hunted down, we counted up and stashed away our goods.' pp123

As poet Leonard Cohen once wrote about Adolph Eichman - "What did you expect, fangs?
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