Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On Evil” as Want to Read:
On Evil
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

On Evil

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  422 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews

For many enlightened, liberal-minded thinkers today, and for most on the political left, evil is an outmoded concept. It smacks too much of absolute judgments and metaphysical certainties to suit the modern age. In this witty, accessible study, the prominent Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton launches a surprising defense of the reality of evil, drawing on literary, theologica

Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Yale University Press (first published 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about On Evil, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about On Evil

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 985)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Oct 31, 2011 Jon rated it liked it
I recently went to hear a lecture by the author--sometimes described as one of the pre-eminent literary theorists of recent years--and bought a copy of this book so he could sign it. We joked briefly about the fact that he had dedicated it to Henry Kissinger. Given how much Eagleton has read, how much he knows, and how witty he is, I was a little disappointed in the book. He distinguishes between evil (what many might call radical evil) and mere wickedness, which is the kind of behavior that res ...more
Mixing theology, political history, modern philosophy and contemporary literary criticism, this is a readable and entertaining treatise on the concept of evil. It's short - actually more like a long-form essay - and although its conclusions are arguably vague, it's very interesting, and you will come away with a long list of further reading.
Oct 06, 2014 Jesse rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This is my first experience with Eagleton, so maybe I'm just not accustomed to his style, but if all of his work is like "On Evil," I don't think I'll be getting back to his work any time soon. He tries to take on a broad, difficult topic, a philosophical obstruction that has been an obsession of philosophy and literature since people started making words, but nothing profound or illuminating emerges from the exercise. The only thing deep about On Evil is the topic itself, and Eagleton only mana ...more
This is a delightful read, though frustrating at times if what you want is a solid argument. I'm not much sold on the theory of evil that he does give, but it's too underdeveloped as it stands for me to make a solid judgment either way.

Some favorite bits:

"Pure autonomy is a dream of evil. It is also the myth of middle class society...In Shakespearian drama, those who claim to depend upon themselves alone, claiming sole authorship of their own being, are almost always villains. You can appeal to
It's hard to dispute anything Eagleton says, which is either the mark of a reasonable man or a lack of difficult statements.

Most importantly this is a book written to suggest "Evil" to an age that tends to disregard the category, and to talk more generally around the subject as a means of suggestion.

He starts by doing a literary survey of evil, reviewing Pincher Martin, The Three Policemen, Lord of the Flies, and a few other works less majorly. The interest paid to William Golding is interesting
Jul 08, 2013 Philipp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, essay
Fun, short book (or long essay?) on "evil" in theology and literature and a little bit on "evil" in history.

You don't have to agree with Eagleton's conclusions to enjoy this (in fact, I disagree with most of them - I think "evil" doesn't even exist). Eagleton is a literary theorist and a Marxist and it clearly shows. For him, evil is caused by institutions that make normally "ok" people do evil things. He doesn't really support this with studies or any numbers, he rather shows characters from l
Dec 25, 2015 Julian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
'it was ok'

some interesting conclusions but very roundabout arguing that only lines up for brief instances.
Aug 25, 2016 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The positive:
As a collection of musings, or perhaps what could be read as a wide-spanning and phenomenally tangential conversation, this book excels. The range of topics explore and viewpoints admired, supported, and sometimes shunned, are interesting and gripping. On the subjects of God (and our relationship to him) and Hell, I thoroughly enjoyed every page. There is some psychoanalysis that falls into the realm of pop-science - or perhaps simply focusses a little much on the philosophical aspe
Dec 07, 2015 Rambox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Fry once explained the difference between American and British humour: whereas the all-knowing big-dicked American is an endless source of perfect one-liners, the British humourist is a dickless and pathetic failure. Yet it is through their posturr of failure that British comedic characters develop their identities and we come to know who they are - while each American comedic protagonist is indistinguishable from the other and therefore identityless.

There is a great art to a continenta
I found this very slow moving to begin with, but was drawn in the further I got into the book. It's an interesting look at the concept of evil, Eagleton using religion, literature and historical events to illustrate ideas that have shaped Western perceptions of eeeeeevil (because hello not everyone is burdened by original sin - some of us get to be totally unoriginal about the whole thing) and how they're manifested in works like Paradise Lost or visible in the acts of the Nazis. I like that it ...more
May 05, 2014 Scott rated it liked it
I bought the book almost solely on the dedication to Kissinger, that is the height of humor.

Mr Eagleton's literary critique is astonishing and in particular to someone like myself who aspires to middlebrow, it takes some close reading at times, but he clearly has a remarkable ability.
His blind spot I feel is with the real world, especially where inevitabilities and outcomes are concerned. His devout Marxism (and seemingly less so), Catholicism tend to lock him into a pretzel logic. His argument
Jason Trent
Jun 09, 2016 Jason Trent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this because it looked to be the kind of thing you would be assigned in college. I had read a little bit of Eagleton 'at uni' . Hes a sort of post-Marxist responder to the creaky colonialist devotion to the 'Western Canon that haunts the skull of Harold Bloom.
"On Evil' is a rambling sort of lecutre-series-in-print on the ideal of evil historically and phiosophically. I am greadually acquainting myself with the big shots of philosophy, so I got a lot of the points 0f reference, even if I
Deborah Murk
The author says the same thing over and over, and then at the very end writes that America deserved 9/11 because we have done so many bad things. What a waste of time. Total crap. I give in zero stars.
Nov 21, 2010 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stopped-reading
Stopped reading after he calls the Catholic Church's doctrine of the Immaculate Conception absurd. He does this so he can make his own non-Christian theory of Original Sin.
Mar 21, 2014 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Eagleton doesn't provide a super coherent argument about evil (mostly due to his cloudy reluctance to define it). Does evil exist? In nature? Is it part of the Dionysian "dark center" of consciousness that leads man to waste? I'm basically not a believer in "evil" because it implies a kind of self-determinism in humans and nowhere else. He lost me for a bit in his introduction where he reduces hard determinism as some trendy progressivist stance without getting into the real gunk of relativism. ...more
Shafiq Razak Rajan
This book tries to explain evil as something irrational that defies all simplistic explanation. Evil, for Eagleton, is an emptiness that has contempt for being. It is desire to destroy all created things without any good reason. Eagleton uses examples both from literature and the real-life to illustrate the examples of evil.

This book could do better with a better sequencing of its ideas and arguments. I'm not the best of readers, but when I read, I want to focus my mind in synthesising the ideas
Kristi Mair
Jan 25, 2015 Kristi Mair rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terry Eagleton lucidly charts the concept and definition of evil in literature and philosophy and how we can understand it today.

A very well written and argued book exposing the true demeanour of evil: a quest for nothing.

Thought provoking, detailed, rich in imaginative scope and rhetoric, Eagleton has produced an accessible yet challenging account of evil.

An account which from first to last leaves us yearning for the light and the beauty of being.

A life affirming read! Depending upon which
Dec 12, 2015 Ron rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The tale of On Evil by Terry Eagleton is a short book as intellectual treatises go, logging in at 192 pages. Especially short because it attempts to encircle the whole of evil known to man. On EvilOn Evil by Terry Eagleton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The tale of On Evil by Terry Eagleton is a short book as intellectual treatises go, logging in at 192 pages. Especially short because it attempts to encircle the whole of evil known to man. Professor Eagleton is the man for the job as his intellectual credential
Eagleton is an engaging writer with many ideas about the concept of evil, as articulated in literature. Yet, this thin book lacks focus and what seems at points to be a guiding thesis gets bogged down by inconsistencies and logical problems (e.g. evil is often explained as both X and not X, and X is also characteristic of things that are not evil). These points should have been better explained as I was often writing "why?" and "how so?" into the ample margins of my copy. In fact, I strongly sus ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Jan 05, 2013 Elliot Ratzman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lit critic Terry Eagleton’s book on evil is surprisingly good; surprising because I’ve read so much on the topic that little strikes me as new. Eagleton, however, has renewed my interest with a robust defense of metaphysical (“taking up an attitude towards being as such”) evil through philosophy, literature and psychoanalysis. Eagleton is a Marxist Catholic, not as paradoxical as it sounds, who describes theological terms in materialist spins that makes you want to commit them to memory. This sh ...more
Feb 12, 2013 AyaSuu rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Evil is a topic I've been examining for quite some time and because I liked Eagleton's "Literary Theory: An Introduction" I've expected a lot from "On Evil" and am very disappointed.
Eagleton claims that being evil means doing evil without reason or motive. It means destroying things just because. With this definition, he fails to find examples of true evil in history or politics, so he examines examples from literature. These were the passages I enjoyed the most. However, in all his examples he
May 12, 2013 Wishkid rated it it was ok
After reading the first page of this book, the first paragraph at that - I almost threw it out the window. Eagleton states that "Children, after all, are only semi-socialized creatures who can be expected to act pretty savagely from time to time." Also, on the first paragraph, "Perhaps children murder each other all the time and simply keep quiet about it."

I though that to be pretty ridiculous, I live near a playground and while children screaming drives me nuts, they seem perfectly socialized
Nick Jones
Dec 17, 2012 Nick Jones rated it it was ok
I read this by accident. I was filling in time, mooching around a bookshop waiting for my partner to turn up when I saw this on a shelf. I read a bit and thought it was amusing...and I don’t expect Terry Eagleton to be amusing. I’ve read some of his earlier work, introductions to the outrageous French literary theory that was so fashionable back in the 1970s: Eagleton was respectful but not entranced...saved by his austere Marxist. Since then he seems to have returned to his Catholic roots: he i ...more
Tom Breen
Mar 24, 2015 Tom Breen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an incisive, thought-provoking, brilliantly written meditation on the concept of evil in its literary, theological, and psychoanalytic interpretations, with plenty of politics thrown into the mix. What it doesn't have, though, is an overarching thesis to bring Eagleton's characteristically insightful observations together in something like a coherent whole. The overall effect is something like having a meandering conversation with a brilliant professor, but there's nothing particularly w ...more
Feb 04, 2015 Anthony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the most disappointing book by Eagleton I've read: doesn't understand subject at all, far too indebted to ludicrous Freudian explanations (like 'Death Instinct') and fourth-rate (quasi-)theological moralising
Kate Davis
Perhaps it requires the certain blend of loving both literature and theology, but I found it conversational and comprehensive and insightful.
Sara Laor
Interesting literary overview with Marxist overtones. Not sure this book adds much to the overall philosophical explanation "on evil."
Rowan Moses
Feb 19, 2014 Rowan Moses rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing and challenging ! Evil art thou my good? Eagleton's greatest work so far ! Combining the Freudian notion of the death drive and the theological concept of original sin, Eagleton weaves out this spectacular image of evil for the 21st century. One of the deadly excesses of subjectivity, evil's avant garde status is challenged by the author. In a way evil is the annihilating nothingness which seeks to dissolve form for its own end, there is no utilitarian end to absolute evil...In the en ...more
Elizabeth  Holter
I thought I'd read a literary analysis of evil to better understand the other book I was reading - Escape From Camp 14, the memoir by the only person known to have been born in and escaped from one of North Korea's prison camps. Eagleton's take on evil in literature is interesting enough, but the unadorned description of the banality of human depravity in Escape From Camp 14 is more effective at reaching the part of the mind that instinctively recognizes truth. The essential qualities of evil th ...more
I really enjoyed the beginning and ends of this book, which were the more general philosophical sectionds, but found the main section where the focus was on literary characters a bit slow, probably because I hadn't read any of the books Eagleton was referring to. As a whole though, On Evil is very interesting and obviously it is to be expected that as predominantly a literary critic, those literary references will be in his work. An additional pleasure in a book on a serious and potentially dark ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 32 33 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Slavoj Žižek
  • The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink
  • Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy
  • The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event
  • The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death
  • The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope
  • Modern Social Imaginaries
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (The Paul Carus Lectures)
  • The Character of Consciousness
  • Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973-1980
  • The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
  • Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica
  • Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy
  • Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television
  • Anatheism: Returning to God After God
  • Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
  • J.G. Ballard (RE/Search #8/9)
Widely regarded as Britain's most influential living literary critic & theorist, Dr Eagleton currently serves as Distinguished Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Lancaster & as Visiting Prof. at the Nat'l Univ. of Ireland, Galway. He was Thomas Warton Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Oxford ('92-01) & John Edward Taylor Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Ma ...more
More about Terry Eagleton...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »