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Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,785 ratings  ·  270 reviews
What is it about evil that we find so compelling? From our obsession with serial killers to violence in pop culture, we seem inescapably drawn to the stories of monstrous acts and the aberrant people who commit them. But evil, Dr. Julia Shaw argues, is all relative, rooted in our unique cultures. What one may consider normal, like sex before marriage, eating meat, or being ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 26th 2019 by Harry N. Abrams
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Average rating 3.55  · 
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Meike
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, 2018-read, germany
As this is a "popular science" book, I didn't expect to be confronted with rigorous academic postulations and intricate arguments that can only be understood by insiders, but this was way too shallow for my taste (and I am not an expert in any of the fields Shaw discusses). I really wanted to like this, but unfortunately, I didn't learn much, and Shaw's impulse to talk about herself and preach to her readers didn't help either - not because her statements are somehow wrong, but because they are ...more
Krystin Rachel
Book Blog | Bookstagram

Opening Thesis: Evil is just a misunderstanding.
Main Evil: Apparently pedophiles aren’t that bad?
Thesis Conclusion: Shockingly shallow.

I really wanted to like this and I’m having a hard time with the rating, because I didn’t like this, and frankly parts of it are so off-putting I want to toss it out a window.

But it’s not a bad book either in terms of writing quality.

My biggest problem really comes down to the fact that this book is not about the science behind humanity’s d
...more
Ian
I’ve long been struck by the subjectivity of the concept of evil. All over the world there are people who do harm to others, deeds that I personally view as evil, but very few of the perpetrators consider themselves to be evil. If their motives are political or religious they usually see themselves as doing good. “Ordinary” criminals often have some sense they are doing wrong but will justify their actions to themselves by victim-blaming. There are other means through which people who do harmful ...more
Juli
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
What is evil? What makes certain choices and actions evil? Does evil exist independently? Or does it need an opposite...good...to manifest? Is evil subjective....or universal?

Dr. Julia Shaw takes a close in-depth look at evil in her new book. But this isn't the sort of book that most might expect. It isn't a bloody dissection of evil behavior in detail, or a discussion of pros and cons about punishment or treatment for those who commit serious acts of violence or crime. Dr. Shaw instead looks at
...more
Krista
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, nonfiction, 2019
We make evil when we label something so. Evil exists as a word, as a subjective concept. But I firmly believe there is no person, no group, no behaviour, no thing that is objectively evil. Perhaps evil only really exists in our fears.

I like books about the brain and human behaviour, and I thought that Julia Shaw's Evil:The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side might give insight into what makes this “dark side” tick. But that's not really what this book is about. The TL;DR is that we are all c
...more
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is good fun, but it's not the solid source I hoped. I agree with all of Shaw's conclusions (see below), but the arguments here aren't very strong and I have issues with that. I felt the logic wasn't always carefully worked out or worded well. And I was really bothered by her writing, occasionally, "But is it evil? I think not." That's a terrible tie-in to the book's overall theme.

I'm not sure the book is lazy, but I want to say it is. What it actually is, is tilted. The author begins
...more
Angela
Jul 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Warning: really long rant ahead.

I don’t give many books 1* as I can usually find a thing or two about a book that I enjoyed. Ultimately, I found Julia Shaw’s book so frustrating I’m surprised I even finished it.

First, I’d like to start by saying that as a fan of true crime, sinister stories, and exploring the “dark side”, I waited anxiously for this book to hit the shelves.

Make no mistake about it. “Evil” is NOT a science-backed exploration of humanity’s dark side. It is rife with the author’s
...more
Mill
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
*Edited: the name of the book I referred.

Quite a hard one to rate. I attended the author’s talk which was rather fun and raises many interesting topics and convinced me to buy the book.

There are some very strong chapters which make one look into the abyss called humanity and recognise the complexities that goes beyond “that person does evil things, they are so inhuman”. I think we’re so prone to assign responsibilities when things go wrong to a specific person/group, because the alternative tha
...more
Amirography
To be honest, I'm disappointed. Her book on fake memories was very educational and interesting. And the sentiment and courage behind this book were amazing. But the content in this book was not as detailed and interesting as I hoped. Her citations and arguments did not impress me. I mean relying on Zimbardo's Standford prison experiment was disappointing, as anyone who dug deep into this experiment would know how fraudulent, unreliable, questionable and unreplicated this so-called experiment was ...more
Erin
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shaw's main question for her readers is this: should we as a society be using the word evil? Is it okay to label someone evil, in turn forever damning them for their bad decisions? Shaw doesn't think we should - that there are many facets of someone 'turning evil' and that we need to do better to understand these people's behaviors (like pedophilia or psychopathy) instead of deeming them less than. I tend to not agree with Shaw's hypothesis (I do think murderers should be labeled murderers for t ...more
Lynn Coulter
Aug 06, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm not confident at all about sharing my opinions of Julia Shaw's new book, Evil: the Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side. After all, Ms. Shaw is a senior lecturer in psychology and criminology at London South Bank University, and I have expertise in neither field.

But I just can't agree with the conclusions she draws from case studies of serial killers and criminals. I agree with her finding that readers fascinated by evil, and I understand what she means when she says different cultures may d
...more
Katja H
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It started out pretty strong but the longer it went on the weirder it got.
Stopped taking it seriously after she claimed that rapists, murderers and paedophiles are not evil (arguably true) but meat-eaters definitely are..
Lolly K Dandeneau
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/
'Without understanding, we risk dehumanizing others, writing off human beings simply because we don’t comprehend them.'

That is a loaded sentence and Evil is a strange beast, one we can’t ever contain because it’s slippery. The face of evil changes with time, what is evil today may be the norm tomorrow. One thing this book will do is make you squirm, because when discussing evil we remove ourselves from the equation until someone points out that
...more
Bob
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As an ethics instructor, I am delighted to have read Julia Shaw's book, Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side. Dr. Shaw does an outstanding job of elucidating the nuances of a rich bio-psycho-social perspective of despicable behavior. Now, I have a wealth of great examples, provocative research findings, and thoughtful questions for debate to share and help learners see the science and philosophy behind evil. Plus, reading this book was like a deliberate ride through a freak house wearin ...more
Cathy
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars

Some chapters were more interesting than others and this raises some valid questions, but ultimately I didn't get what I wanted out of this book. The author's writing/narration didn't work for me because she often came across as sounding vaguely condescending and there was a preachy quality to it all, which I hate.

Also, if I never hear the word 'dehumanise' again, it will be too soon.

I do give the author kudos for being so open about her own sexuality in this book and I did like the sho
...more
Counsel182
Mar 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Evil spelled backwards is live.

I gave this book one star in an attempt to get in touch with my evil self. It is not because the book necessarily deserves one star. It is finely written. It presents an interesting concept. Parts of the book are rather fascinating. However, the basic premise of the book and certain portions of it are frankly repugnant. Ms. Shaw posits the idea that it is time to re-think 'evil' as a concept. The idea of labeling (something an old professor of mine termed Rumpelsti
...more
Lynn
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Three observations:
1). This is one of the dumbest books by an apparently smart person I have read in a long time.

2) I probably shouldn't have expected much from a book on ethics that offers a quote from Nietzsche before every chapter.

3) It is amazing how deeply the author is blinded to any other reality by her own social and personal preferences. She knows how the world should be, and we should just shut up and listen.

Her basic premise is true but pretty shallow: We gain little by labeling anyon
...more
Michele
I wanted to like this book. I really did. But I can't. It is a popular science book but the subtile " The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side" should really be " Why Nothing is Really Evil." Does it have science? Yes it does have some, but that gets lost in the author either talking about herself or moralizing to the reader. Even the last chapter, "And I Said Nothing," which, I feel, was the best, couldn't get away from the moralizing. ...more
Emily
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
**I received this digital ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

This title caught my attention right away, because I, like many other people, am caught up in the true crime zeitgeist. Also, I'm alive and a part of this mucky world right now, so this kind of exploration seems important.

I don't disagree with her thesis ultimately: that evil is not a useful construct through which to view human behavior. The book also has a couple of very interesting chapters on human sexuality tha
...more
Caidyn (he/him/his)
A long time ago, I received this book as an ARC. However, it was one of those that would only be sent to my computer. I hate reading on my computer, so I really tried it since this is an interesting topic, but I gave up and just said I wouldn't give feedback.

That being said, I finally got the book from the library and read it!

Now, I find this topic interesting. There were tons of interesting things in here. Pedophiles, paraphilias, the bystander effect, etc. And Shaw's point for this book was to
...more
A.M.
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
You know a non-fiction book is good when you bore people by quoting from it continually. 😂 This was a fascinating and accessible read that gave me so much food for thought. Good and evil may seem on the surface to be such obvious, stable concepts - but Dr Shaw exposes how flawed our perception of these concepts can be.

Some may find it uncomfortable reading, as the book paints shades of grey across subjects as diverse as Hitler, fetishes, murder, terrorism, pedophilia, capitalism, and more. But I
...more
Antonio Delgado
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is an accessible approach to the problem of evil without the academic jargon but with the proper academic and responsible rigor. Offering more than answers, Julia Shaw takes us to question a priori conception(s) of evil. Simply put it, it is easy to use the later of evil than to deal with reality. Shaw challenges us to think and to have a dialogue with ourselves regarding our own capacity for committing acts that often fall into that category.
Valerie
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
**I won an uncorrected proof of this book through a Goodreads.com Giveaway**

At last! A book addressing that most elusive of topics-- Evil. Dr. Julia Shaw, criminologist & psychologist, is quite an expert on the subject. In this devourable book, she explores evil in all its inhuman guises--sadism, slavery, cybercrime, murder, torture, terrorism, and more-- and reveals it to be infinitely human. I enjoy Dr. Shaw's conversational style as much as I appreciate her extensive research. This book is re
...more
Jess Shanks
Aug 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book legitimately let me down. Let's count the reasons:

1) This book sets up your expectations to be about about the SCIENCE behind humanities dark side, which puts a certain type of book in mind. This book is not that book.

2) Once you get past the improper naming of this book, she leads you down a path of "evil is subjective", "most things you think are evil, aren't actually evil", and then finally, "the word 'evil' shouldn't even exist" - paraphrased, of course.

3) She attempts to make poin
...more
Paul
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is completely banal (that's a joke; see Hannah Arendt on Adolph Eichmann). Actually, this book is fascinating and pretty easy to read for having been written by a Ph.D. in psychology. It deals, of course, with the question of whether essential Evil exists, or whether evil just is defined by behavior in certain circumstances, and whether certain people or groups could be called purely evil. The author, who is a delightful writer, concludes that there is no essential evil. Thus no devil, ...more
Hank Hoeft
This was a difficult book for me to read, not because author Julia Shaw recounts unpleasant situations and details about unsavory human behavior, but because I don't agree with her basic premise: Evil does not exist. She is not a moral relativist--she does believe there are fixed, unmovable standards of ethical behavior--but as a research psychologist, her explanation is incomplete, explaining "evil" as a reductionist, mechanistic problem, and concluding that "we are all evil." The problem with ...more
Aleixie
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
What started off as an intriguing concept went into being preachy and redundant. I don't know who the terget audience is, but it's clearly not me. I've heard some variation of everything she wrote in chapters 2 and up, making it lack any sense of originality. Everyone knows about the two most famous physchology experiments, the Stanford Prison Study and the Milgram Experiment, and I mean everyone. My eight yest old sister probably knows. "But nuances¡" but nothing. They're shitty experiments. Yo ...more
Jonas Saul
Mar 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So impressed with this book. The author's brutal honesty impressed the hell out of me. For that alone, this author has earned my respect. Well, fucking, done. ...more
Catriona
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
“When we talk about evil, we tend to turn our attention to Hitler.”

This catchy first sentence begins Dr. Julia Shaw’s excellent, up-to-date analysis. She points out that, on the internet, it seems as if “…every comment thread will eventually lead to a Hitler comparison.”

But, as ‘Hitler’ has become a synonym for ‘evil,’ the sheer volume of people and actions compared to the WWII dictator results in the weakening of the epithet as a description. Even though there are points on which most would a
...more
Pål Lystrup
Very pop-sciency. The writing is OK, but the text as a whole is lacking. It's somewhat superficial (merely picks at the surface of a bunch of topics), self-contradictory (going beyond good and evil, yet encouraging action on the somewhat very same grounds, as well as nuancing yet still categorically being dismissive of certain 'drivers' in particular people/circumstances), and it is written as if ethics was one set of agreed upon set of premises as opposed to the many different ethical schools ( ...more
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Julia Shaw is an honorary research associate at the University College London. Born in Germany and raised in Canada, she has a MS in psychology and law and a PhD in psychology from the University of British Columbia. She is a regular contributor to Scientific American.

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