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The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty
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The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  1,391 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common--lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world.

In The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and auti
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Basic Books (first published May 6th 2011)
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♆ BookAddict ♨ ✒ La Crimson Femme❇ ♐
This is more a 2.5 star which as people who follow me know, I truncate, not round up. This book started out very riveting. The theory proposed in this book is about the impacts based on the lack of empathy. There were two interesting concepts of Zero Negative and Zero Positive people. Basically Borderline, Psychopaths and Narcissists all fall under the Zero Negative. Different forms of autism falls under the Zero Positive.

The ideas in this book are interesting to read. What Mr. Baron-Cohen post
Avolyn Fisher
I find that this book could be a lot shorter than it is, for the fact that it is repetitive and offers a lot of hypothesis and questions rather than answers or true discoveries. It regurgitates what has already been mentioned about narcissism, autism, antisocial disorder, and borderline disorder. I am not an expert on psychological studies but it appeared to only state what has already been stated and suggest that there are links between those disorders and levels of empathy in certain individua ...more
I can't really review this book, for the simple reason that I do not trust it, and am simply unsure what to believe and what not to. Perhaps my attitude is unfair, but it was these two passages that pushed me into Sgt. Schultz mode:

Some people compare him to the character that Dustin Hoffman played in the film Rain Man, which was based on a real person (Kim Peek) with autism, because... (p. 106, my edition)

Consider that back in 1542 Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet entitled Against the Jews (calli
This is by far the most unscientific and poorly written pop-psychology book I have ever read. The book opens with a paragraph about Jews being made in to lampshades & soap by the Nazis, which is propaganda that was clearly discredited decades ago and moves in to more personal anecdotes and mythology. It is hard to take seriously an author who would perpetuate such misinformation. It is also disturbing that someone with clearly very little basic understanding of his subject could have won awa ...more
this book made me realise that I may have Borderline Personality Disorder

*wanting to be a soulmate and yet fearing intimacy, believing she will
lose her identity and cease to exist in relationships
*Impulsivity potentially self-destructive
*Extreme mood swings, from depression to anger to elation and enthusiasm,
each mood lasting only a few hours
*Inability to control anger
*Suicidal threats
*Identity confusion
*Extreme emptiness lonel
I picked up this book because the dust jacket mentioned the role of mirror neurons in how people understand one another. Baron-Cohen argues that mirror neurons are only a small part of a more elaborate system he calls the empathy circuit. Using a questionnaire (a copy of which is in the book) that measures empathy, what he calls the empathy quotient, he focuses on those who measure zero. As you might anticipate, psychopaths are on this end of the scale. What is interesting is that he also places ...more
Yet another book to add on evil. I probably should start a separate shelf.

A collection of reviews —
• Read the informative New York Times review: From Hitler to Mother Teresa: 6 Degrees of Empathy .

• Another more personal review is at the GuardianUK, subtitled A book that gets to the heart of man's inhumanity to man .

• The Wall Street Journal is mildly critical: The Problem With 'Evil' .

• And one more from The Economist: Medical diagnosis of malfeasance .

For the record, my Empathy Quotient, per t
Kristi Thielen
Not an agonizing recitation of evil acts, this book is about scientific studies to determine why some people are so lacking in empathy.

The environment vs. genetics issues are explored and how a deadly mixture of both may create the monsters who engage in cruel acts. But the book also explores the minds of people who seem to lack empathy, but do not commit evil acts, because they have a very structured moral code. (People who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.)

As the mother of a 27-year-old
I met Simon Baron Cohen in 2004 as part of my exploration of the role of empathy (and lack of it or autism) in my field of conflict research. He is an extraordinary person to discuss these issues, with and his knowledge and compassion for the children he treats for development disorders strongly evident. His book 'The Essential Difference' played a major role in the evolution of my theory of 'induced autism' in conflict.

His latest book extends his thinking into the role of zero degrees of empat
Emma Sea
2.5 stars, rounded down. A bit too dry. However the tiny part on Nazi atrocities at the beginning made me cry in public :(
Simon Baron-Cohen addresses the question of evil with an emphasis on moving away from biblical or religious theories towards scientific and psychiatric explanations. Baron-Cohen argues that much of what can constitute cruelty towards others is a result of a lack of empathy, that is, lacking feeling towards the victim and seeing them more or less as objects. In the book, Baron-Cohen argues that empathy exists on a spectrum, and while anyone can lack empathy for a brief moment, the book argues tha ...more
Kate Woods Walker
For those who follow this subject, there's not much new here. And I don't necessarily agree with all the author's assertions. (Are psychopaths, borderlines and narcissists all truly "zero empathy?" I doubt it.) But he presents his case fairly well, and every genuine voice in the battle against "evil" deserves a hearing.

Baron-Cohen's work in The Science of Evil rests on the narrow fence between pop psychology and serious research. And with glaring flaws like the twice-made proposition that the wo
Michael George
The Science of Evil
S. Baron-Cohen
Basic Books, 2011

What is evil? This is a question that is addressed in the first chapter of this book. The point of view is adopted to discuss this from the standpoint of a lack of empathy. In the second chapter, empathy is discussed as if it were a measurable characteristic, with a variation in the human population characterized by a “bell-shaped curve”. The concept of “empathy quotient”, or EQ, is introduced, and we are introduced to a questionnaire whose resul
Simon Baron-Cohen tells us that what we call "evil" is in reality a total lack of empathy, the result of either genetics, abuse, or both.

Recently, I happened to catch on TV part of the current Casey Anthony trial. A forensics expert had been called to testify regarding insect activity present in the deceased child's body when found. While he was giving his testimony the camera panned to Ms. Anthony. Considering the graphic nature of the subject and the fact that the deceased was her own child,
Bob Nichols
This is a disappointing book. The author overstates the case for empathy. "Empathy itself is the most valuable resource in the world," he writes. Since uncaring leads to cruelty and inappropriate social responses, he argues that we need more empathy. If it were as simple as asserting that it be so.

The author defines empathy as only a good thing as far as social relationships are concerned, but some have argued that it is this capacity to identify with what goes on in others that gives sadists p
After finishing this book, I had to struggle to understand what new knowledge I had gained into the human mind. The answer quickly turned out to be not much.
While there were certainly interesting concepts and anecdotes, the information wasn't anything...I expected? I guess I expected a real peak into why we do things we do. Why certain people turn out the way they do. The most certain answer I received from this book was that it's a mixture of nurture and nature. Um...duh?
I liked the Empathy Quo
Kim Wombles
My extensive review of this book can be found at
ron btdtbttsawio
I really enjoyed this book. The science is easy to follow and there is a minimal amount of technical jargon. Give it a whirl.
Dec 21, 2011 Kaethe marked it as stricken
Baron-Cohen does crap science; I don't need to read this
Ishmael Seaward
The word "evil" is a label we attach to people who do bad things. That doesn't mean we really understand what is going on. The author is quite specific in what he wants to accomplish: Stop talking about evil, which can't be defined or measured, and talk about empathy (or the lack thereof). Empathy can be measured; this is supported by years of research. With the advent of fMRI, parts of the brain can be identified that are involved in empathy. There are 10, and the author describes each one, whe ...more
Cecilia Solis-sublette
The study of empathy has always been an interest of mine because it seems there is scarcity of it in today's day and age. When a person texts and drives, are they thinking empathetically or are they being selfish? What about the psychopath who can kill her own child in cold blood and then go about partying as if nothing has happened? The author of this study attempts to explore these phenomena in this book as he tries to redefine evil to mean an "absence of empathy". Of particular interest, is t ...more
As I'm a layperson on the subject matter, (psychology, not Evil- though I hope never to be more than an occasional amateur in that) I'm not able to adequately comment on the scientific or clinical aspects of this topic. My most critical negative comment, however, is that this was what is precisely lacking here. The title presents the subject matter as 'Science of...' but the content was superficial. I appreciated the author's many assertions, and his theory, but I would have liked to see more ev ...more
Nov 25, 2011 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Laura by: NPR
Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sasha) is a professor of developmental psychopathology, specializing in autism research. He wrote this book to suggest that the scientists shouldn’t leave evil to the theologians; that much of it could be researched and quantified. Often using machines that go ping!

I think he’s right about that. People with certain disorders that damage their ability to have empathy for others (psychopathic, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders specifically) are overrepresent
This is one of the books where I idly hovered over the rating field and could not make up my mind, whether to give is three stars, our four. (Just FYI: I very rarely give five stars). In the end I gave it four. Why I was tempted to give it “only” three stars? Well, while I find his approach interesting (evil not as a function but as a result of the absence of something else), many of his ideas stroke me as too simplistic. One of them is the empathy quotient as a predictor for empathic shortcomin ...more
This book started off as a solid four stars for me. I liked Baron-Cohen's ideas on empathy, especially defining it as a two-step process - identifying another's emotions and responding appropriately, the idea that empathy levels can be charted on a bell curve, and that we are confined to our own range of empathy levels but free to move within it. I thought he was on the right path with looking for physiological proof of empathy levels in what he calls the "empathic circuit" of the brain. But he ...more
I have approached writing this book review several times and have been turned back by equivocation each time. This book was extremely difficult for me to review because it is a nice, neat, concise little package, which I felt was rather suspect considering the daunting topic of providing an explanation for human cruelty. I expected an opus, but I almost feel as if Baron-Cohen has provided a simple “no brainer”: people who are capable of cruelty lack empathy.

Honestly though, he goes a little fur
Those looking for lots of data and a plethora of polysyllabic terms to discuss nuances of neuroscience taxonomy will probably find this volume skimpy, but I enjoyed this quite readable summary translation for the layman of current work on studying how and when empathy is evoked and transmitted through the human neurological system.

The author--a cousin of the famous actor Sascha Baron Cohen (he of Borat fame)and a leading expert in his field of psychopathology--also provides a framework for testi
I would suggest there is little in this book that is actually new, although it is useful to have a comprehensive argument about the nature of human cruelty in one place.

The book discusses the physiological and genetic links to poor empathic response as well as various forms of zero-negative expressions of zero empathy (Borderline Personality Disorder; Anti-Social Personality Disorder; Narcissism) as well as zero-positive ones like Asperger syndrome.

It does, in spite of the often difficult subjec
Neil White
Simon Baron-Cohen has been one of the most provocative voices on research on the autism spectrum and is responsible for two of the major frameworks that have been used to better understand autism spectrum disorders. In this work he approaches a broader psychological spectrum to make the suggestion that empathy erosion is a scientific way to approach the question of interpersonal evil. The work is more suggestive than definitive, but his proposal is intriguing even if it doesn't answer all the qu ...more
This is really an amazing book, maybe the best cognitive science book I've read this year. Baron-Cohen starts with a pretty simple premise on evil: that evil should be viewed not from the traditional Judeo-Christian definition or the modern western judicial definition, but rather as a failure of human empathy. From that point on, he discusses evil very little, and gives the reader a fascinating study of human empathy, and in so doing he writes a very moving case for why empathy is likely the mos ...more
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