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The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill Paperback – April 25, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers with scientific training have no kind words for The Murderer Next Door. The author’s investiture in the controversial field of evolutionary psychology—which posits that human behavior is the product of evolution—leads him to assert that homicidal fantasies are more common than the reader might believe, and smacks of self promotion. While Buss’s argument is internally consistent, his premise runs counter to established anthropological and biological studies. Readers unversed in those sciences might receive Buss’s claims about homicide’s roots more openly, and find them both credible and disturbing.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Psychology professor Buss first became interested in the roots of homicide when a close friend flew into a murderous rage against his wife at a party. The fact that this gentle man came close to murdering a loved one contradicted a number of beliefs Buss had always held about homicide, chief among them that murderers are necessarily insane. This book, the result of Buss' research into a never-used file of more than 400,000 murders and a close collaboration with psychiatrists at the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry, led him to a new view: that murder is the product of evolutionary forces and that the homicidal act, in evolutionary terms, conveys advantages to the killer. Buss sets out to dispel what he terms some misperceptions about murder, misperceptions based largely on the media's focus on serial killers. Well argued and unsettling. Connie Fletcher
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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037057
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Carmi Turchick on June 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book. I just returned from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference in Austin, effectively hosted by Buss's department at UT Austin.

Buss spoke at the conference, and I had some big problems with what he said, but I thought I would give benefit of the doubt until I had the book in my hands.

My first big problem is the conflation of murder and war. While we can of course say that both entail violence, and that both seem to be behaviors selected for by evolution, that is all we can say. In most other aspects these behaviors are widely divergent in motivations and psychologies. Sure, sometimes men kill over women on the individual level and sometimes they take women as the spoils of war, but they also often kill all the women along with the men. While leaders may gloat about taking enemy women (as he notes), the rank and file have little choice about going to war. It is that or be exiled from the group, or see the group overrun and die with your family. Certainly over evolutionary time the choices in war were often win or die, and so women are not exactly central to the matter. One also should note that there is a huge psychological difference between killing over a woman one is, or has been, close to and killing with the hope of capturing women from an enemy group. Most critically, men go to war most often out of pro-social altruistic motives and group commitments, while many murders are anti-social selfish acts. One might just as well conflate love and lust too, if we are after confusion instead of insight.

And if Buss wants to use the term "murder" in the all-inclusive way he does throughout the book, then he must be consistent in that usage. He is not. On page 27 he states that "...the evolutionary war theory does not explain...
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a dumbed down version of many other evolutionary psychological accounts of homicide. Theoretically there is nothing new. However, for the neophyte, it does provide a usefull overview of how evolutionary theory can help explain who kills whom, why, and when.
The reader should be a little leary of the "killing module" idea. It is not necessary to posit a murder module to account for homicide. Also, Buss is less than clear about the specific 'darwinian algorithims' operating this circuitry. Is there circuitry for each different kind of homicide- as most hardcore modularists would insist? Or, is there a general circuit for murder? Buss vacilates and doesn't clarify this issue at all.
Either way, the murder module idea is fairly vapid. Why, as another reviewer pointed out, posit such a device if it seldom works? Suicide levels are everywhere much higher than homicide. What does this say about the adaptiveness of such modules? I am not sure.
The best thing about the book is the inclusion of many case studies. Buss had individuals write about their homicidal fantasies. Who did they want to kill? Why? What stopped them? Many of these vivid accounts are highly graphic and disturbing. Anyone who has ever thought about killing someone will enjoy these accounts! They also make for easy, maliciously fun reading.
If you are a tyroe, by all means enjoy this book. If you are seasoned in the field, stick to the more academically rigorous material.
(see other reviewers for more technical critisims. There are many that can be made, but that takes me beyond my reviews purpose.)
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Format: Hardcover
This book is definitely worth reading. It really makes you think about how much domestic violence comes down to simple Darwinian competition.

I just find myself wondering about some of the claims made in it:

1. that as many as 12% of children in middle class families are fathered by men who are engaging in "mate poaching" (that seems terribly high)

2. that extramarital affairs for both men and women are motivated by the desire to either pass on genes or have a child with "good" as opposed to "bad" genes. I can't help but think this is really unlikely (that there are many other cues to unfaithful behavior)

3. that man and woman are more or less slaves to their reproductive instincts. If this was the case, how does this explain sexual behavior where the production of children is out of the question (oral sex)?

4. Here's another thought. If all male behavior boils down to the imperative of passing one's genes to as many women possible and deterring rivals from doing the same to one's "own" women, what about the phenomenon of males acting as pimps?

5. Here's yet another thought. I was really surprised to read that the author considered Diane Downs, the woman who shot her three children --killing one and crippling another-- as fitting the profile of a "perfectly normal next-door [neighbor] with no apparent evidence of psychological abnormalities."

If the author had carefully read Ann Rule's book about Downs ("Small Sacrifices"), he would have seen that Downs was a VERY strange woman and not somebody I would ever describe as the stuff of "perfectly normal next-door neighbors."

6.
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