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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  4,444 ratings  ·  402 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
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Basic Books
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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
Reading this, I couldn't get out of my head that the author's first cousin is Sasha Baron-Cohen. It was the vision of the ultimate evil mischief-maker that Borat was. Borat in a fluorescent green mankini was behind every word I read. Once seen, never forgotten...

mankini man

So one of them makes a living out of analysing people and philosophising on whether cruelty and evil is genetic and the other makes his living out of exploiting people with deliberate cruelty that I'm sure his victims think is evil.

The Angry Lawn Gnome
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
Avolyn Fisher
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
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 ...more
Jun 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 Informative-Stars!
There are some books that you read with your mouth open and all of your emotions displayed across your face. This is one of those books. Be warned, 'The Science of Evil' will make you disgusted and enlightened at the same time. What dug into my heart even more were the real life photos of acts of terror. It's gut-wrenching to see what people are capable of. It's unspeakable.

First Chapter:
Nazi scientists severed a woman's hands and then sewed them back Switched. So her
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
Mike (the Paladin)
Interesting book. That's about all I can really say. I don't find this as practical for the "layperson" as some books on the idea of evil and the human brain and mind are. Still you may find it draws you in a bit.

I think how this one hits you will depend on your own bent and interests. I picked it up after reading a few books on Psychopathy. That's not exactly what's discussed here, but it is interesting.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
An attempt to explain evil from an empirical standpoint rather than an ideological or a philosophical one. The author is only dealing with a certain type of evil; not natural evil (things like earthquakes and flooding) but moral evil (things like murder and rape). In a move parallel to Augustine of Hippo, he defines evil in terms of privation. Just as one might define darkness as the absence of light, Augustine defined evil as the absence of good, and Baron-Cohen defines it as the absence of ...more
Wayne Barrett
Interesting details concerning the make-up of evil inherent in the human species, especially dealing with empathy, or as touched on in this book, the lack thereof. This book broke down the science of the condition, explaining how that we are all not, either good or bad, but rather in measure, we are all a mixture of both. I'm reminded of the cartoon I used to see where every person has an invisible little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, each trying to persuade us to do ...more
Jun 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have approached writing this book review several times and have hesitated ...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 complexity, 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 further and he groups his
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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,
Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic)
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in empathy, cruelty, autism and personality disorders.
Didn't get to read all of this because I originally got it out of the library to complete a degree assignment, but then found myself totally captivated by it. I think I only missed out two chapters in the end but ohh boy, this is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, smartly written, entertaining and very informative! It even debunks to an extent the idea that those with autism spectrum disorder and psychopathy don't have any empathy, rather, they both lack a specific type of empathy ...more
Kristi Thielen
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
Holy fear-mongering, Batman!
Never have I read a book more toxic for the attitude towards the mentally ill. This book teaches the readers to be afraid of people who suffer really awful things already!!
Not only are the facts in this book wrong (bpd patients not having empathy? Are you kidding me right now???), they are incredibly intolerant and hurtful. The last thing the mentally ill need are outsiders telling them they're awful, unethical, evil people the way this book argues. If you value the
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 :(
Kaethe Douglas
Dec 21, 2011 marked it as stricken
Baron-Cohen does crap science; I don't need to read this
Dec 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Michael George
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
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
This is really not a book about evil. Believe the subtitle. The author makes his case that there are individuals who are hard wired, by genetics and development, to lack empathy and that 3 types of these individuals are capable of inflicting harm on others without considering the harm done. Three types of personality disorder fit into the most harmful category as we know it from standard psychological classifications: psychopathic, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. When fully ...more
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen

“The Science of Evil” is a very interesting book that examines human cruelty. British researcher Simon Baron-Cohen takes the reader on a fascinating ride that focuses on the social and genetic factors that impact empathy. This stimulating 272-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Explaining “Evil” and Human Cruelty, 2. Empathy Mechanism: The Bell Curve, 3. When Zero Degrees of Empathy Is Negative, 4.When
3.5 stars. And yes, he's related to Sacha Baron-Cohen.
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I totally agree with the arguments presented discussing degrees of empathy and how they manifest in day-to-day life. I especially enjoyed the last chapter on empathy as a solution to world issues. My only complaint is that (for me) the brain science gets a bit dry.
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I registered a book at!
Kate Woods Walker
Jun 27, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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,
Justin Hellings
Jul 29, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This area of knowledge was completely new to me when I read the book. I was really taken with the book, probably because of a reputable researcher presenting a very neat explanation of the human capacity to hurt.

Unfortunately, once I actually did some very basic research into borderline personality disorder, I found that the way Cohen characterises this group of sufferers is very mainstream but highly at odds with DSM5 diagnosis system. Talking to a counselling psychologist who has treated
Nov 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short insight into the ways that empathy makes us human...or teaches us to treat others as human. Interesting ideas on the lapses in empathy that tend to be passed off as 'seeing red' etc. Recommended as a starting point into an evaluation of human evil, and how our brains work to rationalise both dealing with cruelty and inflicting it.
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Simon Baron-Cohen FBA is Professor of Developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He has worked on autism, including the theory that autism involves degrees of mind-blindness (or delays in the development of theory of mind) and his later theory that autism is an ...more
“Parents who discipline their child by discussing the consequences of their actions produce children who have better moral development , compared to children whose parents use authoritarian methods and punishment.” 72 likes
“empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble.” 14 likes
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