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Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

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Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing [Paperback]

James E. Waller
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 22, 2007 0195314565 978-0195314564 2
The first edition of Becoming Evil spoke unforgettably to a world shell-shocked by 9/11 that faced a new war on terror against members of an Axis of Evil. With this second edition, James Waller brings us up to date on some of the horrific events he used in the first edition to illustrate his theory of extraordinary human evil, particularly those from the perennially troubled Balkans and Africa, pointing out steps taken both forward and back. Nearly a third of the references are new, reflecting the rapid pace of scholarship in Holocaust and genocide studies, and the issue of gender now occupies a prominent place in the discussion of the social construction of cruelty. Waller also offers a reconfigured explanatory model of evil to acknowledge that human behavior is multiply influenced, and that any answer to the question "Why did that person act as he or she did?" can be examined at two levels of analysis-- the proximate and the ultimate. Bookended by a powerful new foreword from Greg Stanton, vice-president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and a devastating postscript that addresses current outbreaks of genocide and mass killing, this new edition demonstrates that genocide is a problem whose time has not yet passed, but Waller's clear vision gives hope that at least we can begin to understand how ordinary people are recruited into the process of destruction.

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Editorial Reviews


"...offers a psychological explanation as to why some human beings are so deliberately harmful to others...A fascinating glimpse of evolutionary psychology is presented... an eyewitness account of inhumanity."--Journal of American Medicine Association

About the Author

James E. Waller is a Professor and Chair in the Psychology Department at Whitworth College.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (March 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195314565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195314564
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.6 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for Teaching and Self-Exploration June 16, 2005
Robert Waller has written an exceptional explanation of how every human is tempted and entrapped by situations, people, attitudes and personality traits that leads one to commit evil. It is these small acts of evil that can build, distract and cumulate in the horrors we see on the news and respond "not me!"

I have used Becoming Evil as an additional book in my Social Psychology class for three years and students always walk out talking about it. Other professors are constantly asking me to see this book saying students are talking about in their classes, in sororities/fraternities and other organizations. One student told me that after reading this book suddenly she understood how pledging a sorority should be changed. Another student wrote me from military training and said how he was beginning to understanding how easy it was to create a mindset of destruction and killing without looking back. One mother in my class told me that the book has deeply impacted how she parents her children.

I deeply believe this is an extremely valuable book. Very organized, easy to understand, and rooted in compelling real life examples of extraordinary evil committed by individuals that we begin to realize look, act and who were just like us.

I have had a hard time finding another book to use in my class that has touched students to the depth of Becoming Evil. I hope others find it equally soul touching and reflective.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound book February 19, 2004
This work shows why explorations of the nature of human nature are not just the stuff of ivory towers. It adds an evolutionary psychology element to previous discussions of genocide with good effect. So one gets some of the ideas of Tooby, Cosmides, Sober and Wilson's "Unto others", Pinker, etc. in the picture. It is also well written and engages the reader emotionally. The evolutionary psychology, though, is only one fundamental factor among many. The author's point is to show all of the various factors that influence a potential actor in genocide, and the situational influences dealt with by social psychology loom large.
Nevertheless, there is an interesting lack of self-awareness of the use of a repeated concept. It is very common to refer to someone who commits an evil act as being inhuman. That dehumanizes the perpetrator. But as Mr. Waller so beautifully explains, it is well within ordinary human nature to have the potential to commit acts of extraordinary evil. So it may be evil, but it is not inhuman. Furthermore, the book explains that dehumanizing others is part of the process that can lead to genocide. In trying to characterize these evil acts, the author uses some of the same dehumanizing mental constructs that lead to such evil acts. Ironic, no?
But that is a minor point. It is quite customary to refer to evil acts as being inhuman. The book is excellent, if sobering.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting/informative, but... October 24, 2009
By Kaleb
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it was a requirement for a Political Psychology college course I'm taking this semester. In the last month or so, our class has analyzed and discussed this book thoroughly. Waller provides a four-part conceptual model in order to explain why he believes genocide and mass killing occur. He also writes about specific case examples at the end of each chapter in order to further articulate his feelings. Anyway, Waller seems to believe very strongly in one "ultimate influence" in order to explain our behavior--evolutionary biology/psychology precede and precipitate his other three "proximate influences," which are social construction of cruelty, cultural construction of worldview, and psychological construction of "the other." He contends that we, as humans, are programmed to committ evil as a result of natural selection; that is, our ancestors survived because of their ability to defeat potential enemies within a scarce realm. Academic stuff aside, this book is very easy to read, incredibly interesting, and is a great start for those who would like to delve into this fascinating subject.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended July 24, 2003
By A Customer
The editorial reviews above and the publisher's description are accurate about the content. I want to add that this book is well worth reading. The author covers a great deal of research on the topic of man's inhumanity to man and presents the various theories and arguments with an elegance and precision that make this comprehensive book easy, and were it not for the subject matter, pleasurable to read. For anyone interested in the challenge of explaining violence in all its 20th century awfulness, this is an excellent place to start.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Could Happen to You April 12, 2006
By wahzoh
After buying this book and reading it myself, I loaned it to my brother and then gave it to my local library where I hope it will be read by many others.

Mr. Waller undertakes a difficult topic -- how it is that ordinary, moral, "law-abiding" human beings can change into perpetrators of genocide. The idea that something like this could happen to any one of us is frightening, indeed, but the best way to protect ourselves is to understand the process. Waller explains this clearly and helps us to understand that the Nazis and other genocidal groups were not insane or monstrous - they were normal people who had undergone a transformation which could occur to anyone in the "right" (i.e., "wrong") circumstances.

This book would be an important addition to libraries everywhere, and I also hope that it will be used in colleges, universities and even high schools.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 7 months ago by Megan Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Received as advertised
Published 11 months ago by Brenda Chandler
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Here is the definitive book on the human species.
Published 11 months ago by Michael Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Item as described.
Published 18 months ago by HH
4.0 out of 5 stars needed for school
I purchased this for my daughter for a course see was taking in college over the summer. Can't review it myself.
Published on June 2, 2014 by Julie Bernstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Leaders need more than themselves and a few cronies to commit genocide. I have always been bothered by the question of how the masses get involved - even if only by turning their... Read more
Published on April 28, 2014 by chi lady
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book
The book gives a good account of the psychological angles of how normal people can committ mass murder and genocide. Read more
Published on April 12, 2014 by Hunyadi
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I wish I had read this book a long time ago. I have always had questions about how one person can influence so many people to follow their evil agenda.
Published on March 12, 2014 by BJs Great Finds
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal
By far the best book I've read on genocide. Waller presents an excellent assortment of how genocide occurs, and more importantly, what internal and external mechanisms make... Read more
Published on March 11, 2014 by skyler bosworth
5.0 out of 5 stars Yielding to the Dark
Is there a common pattern or patterns that can explain how human beings come to a point where they can commit genocide? Read more
Published on February 26, 2014 by L. King
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