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Obedience to Authority

4.9 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061319839
ISBN-10: 006131983X
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Editorial Reviews


... one of the most significant books I have read in more than two decades of reviewing" -- --Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

From the Back Cover


“The classic account of the human tendency to follow orders, no matter who they hurt or what their consequences.”  — Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

In the 1960s Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram famously carried out a series of experiments that forever changed our perceptions of morality and free will. The subjects—or “teachers”—were instructed to administer electroshocks to a human “learner,” with the shocks becoming progressively more powerful and painful. Controversial but now strongly vindicated by the scientific community, these experiments attempted to determine to what extent people will obey orders from authority figures regardless of consequences. “Milgram’s experiments on obedience have made us more aware of the dangers of uncritically accepting authority,” wrote Peter Singer in the New York Times Book Review. Featuring a new introduction from Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, Obedience to Authority is Milgram’s fascinating and troubling chronicle of his classic study and a vivid and persuasive explanation of his conclusions.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 8, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006131983X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061319839
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #500,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although the studies that are contained in this book are a little over 40 years old, they are as relevant as ever. Although Milgram wrote with his eye to the past - he looked back to the Holocaust and to My Lai (he finally wrote the book in 1972, 10 years after the studies were completed) - his voice has proven to be not only prophetic, but of continuing insight and relevance for understanding group dynamics of power and violence.
Milgram's studies were done between 1961 and 1962 while he was at Yale; they were all variations on a theme: a unknowing participant (the subject-teacher) was brought to believe that s/he was participating in a learning study. The other two main participants were a man who posed as the student (the learner) and one who posed as the principal investigator (the authority figure).
The subject-teacher was told that the learning would occur in this way: the student would be hooked up to an electric shock generator while the teacher would read a set of word pairs, which the student would repeat back. When the student missed one of the word pairs, he would be shocked by the "teacher" in increasingly higher shocks (the shocks increased in 15 volt increments), up to 450 volts (which was marked, along with the 435 volt mark, with XXX).
The basic goal of the study was to find out how far the "teachers" would go despite the cries, pounding and eventual silence on the part of the students. The frightening finding was that more often than not, the vast majority of teachers followed through with the command to continue the experiment, which was given by the man acting as the principal investigator every time one of the "teachers" wanted to quit.
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Format: Paperback
You can look to other books, articles, and essays for various interpretations on the validity and ultimate meaning behind Stanley Milgram's "shocking" experiments. But if you want to know what the experimenter (Milgram) himself thought, then you should read this book. The book contains Milgram's comments on basic human nature and what he thought the individual person became when placed in a position of subordination. He recognized that humans exist in a hierarchical society that is civil partially because we are obedient to authority figures. Only a minority of of his subjects were willing to dissent and stop shocking the victim, even when the victim complained of pain and suffering!

For me, the book's greatest asset was the description of different manipulations and variables that Milgram tinkered with. These variations are typically not described in other places and reveal the conditions under which obedience is highest. For example, Milgram carried out some experiments in a different location (a less impressive basement lab), asked the demonstrator to feign a heart condition, had an ordinary man give orders, had an authority figure as the victim, and many other situations. You will be surprised to what lengths Milgram had to go in order for the subject to disobey orders from an authority figure. The results really argue for an innate basis for obedience.

In democratic America, where dissent used to be considered a patriotic act (but is now suppressed by the State), Milgram's results remind us how easy it is to do wrong. If we do not take personal responsibilty for our actions and question authority when it is appropriate, then we deserve to be treated like cogs in a machine.
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Format: Hardcover
This book presents a mind-blowing revelation on every page, and yet you will recognize everything in it from your everyday life. That is what makes it so chilling. Milgram demonstrates in definitive experiments how typical people recruited from off the street can, using no more than a veneer of authority, easily be persuaded to commit torture and even murder on innocent victims. The book thereby essentially explains the psychological mechanics of the Nazi and other concentration camps, the Death Squads in El Salvador and across the World, and the many other forms of atrocity that have become so characteristic of the 20th Century, this "Century of barbed wire and watchtowers". Ever wonder how you can find air force pilots willing to drop the bombs to start a nuclear holocaust? Answer: It's the easiest thing in the World! A certain percentage of the population will have the proper psychological profile, and you just select them. If psychologists and social scientists really wanted to know what are the ruling principles of civilization and what are the sources of so many of its ills, they'd be running experiments like Milgram's year-round in labs across the planet. Instead, very little work of this kind has since been done. Why? Because it's considered "ethically questionable"! In a classic case of "kill the messenger", the very man who shows us concretely how torture has been so thoroughly integrated into the political structure and who exposes the blatant hypocracy of our rulers, is accused of abusing his subjects and of betraying their trust! In the back of the book Milgram, by the way, faces all ethical objections head-on and refutes them all convincingly. Buy this book if you want to find out what is "really going on", but you may be upset by what you find.
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