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People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

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In this absorbing and equally inspiring companion volume to his classic trilogy – The Road Less Traveled, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, and The Road Less Traveled and Beyond – Dr. M. Scott Peck brilliantly probes into the essence of human evil.

People who are evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Peck demonstrates the havoc these people of the lie work in the lives of those around them. He presents, from vivid incidents encountered in his psychiatric practice, examples of evil in everyday life.

This book is by turns disturbing, fascinating, and altogether impossible to put down as it offers a strikingly original approach to the age-old problem of human evil.

272 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1983

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About the author

M. Scott Peck

100 books1,211 followers
Dr. Peck was born on May 22, 1936 in New York City, the younger of two sons to David Warner Peck, a prominent lawyer and jurist, and his wife Elizabeth Saville. He married Lily Ho in 1959, and they had three children.

Dr. Peck received his B.A. degree magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1958, and his M.D. degree from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1963. From 1963 until 1972, he served in the United States Army, resigning from the position of Assistant Chief Psychiatry and Neurology Consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster. From 1972 to 1983, Dr. Peck was engaged in the private practice of psychiatry in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

On March 9, 1980 at the age of 43, Dr. Peck was nondenominationally baptized by a Methodist minister in an Episcopalian convent (where he has frequently gone on retreat).

Dr. Peck's first book, The Road Less Traveled, was published by Simon & Schuster in 1978. The book has sold over six million copies to date in North America alone, and has been translated into over 20 languages.

Dr. Peck's second book, People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil, was published by Simon & Schuster in October of 1983. It is recognized as a ground-breaking contribution to the field of psychology, and is currently a best seller in Japan.

Dr. Peck's third book, What Return Can I Make? Dimensions of the Christian Experience, was published by Simon & Schuster in December of 1985. It contains Marilyn Von Waldner's singing as well as Dr. Peck's essays and audio commentary. It was republished by Harpers (San Francisco) in the fall of 1995, under the new title, Gifts For the Journey: Treasures of the Christian Life, and is being republished again by Renaissance Press.

A fourth book entitled The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, was published in June 1987 by Simon & Schuster and is recognized as another ground breaking contribution to the behavioral sciences.

Dr. Peck's fifth book and first work of fiction, A Bed By the Window: A Novel of Mystery and Redemption, was published by Bantam in August, 1990. It was hailed by the New York Times as "something of a miracle".

The Friendly Snowflake: A Fable of Faith, Love and Family, Dr. Peck's sixth book, and first for children as well as adults, (Turner Publishing, Inc.) and was illustrated by Dr. Peck's son, Christopher Peck, and published in October 1992.

Dr. Peck's seventh book, A World Waiting To Be Born: Civility Rediscovered, a work on organizational behavior, was published by Bantam in March 1993.

Meditations From the Road, was published by Simon & Schuster in August 1993.

Further Along the Road Less Traveled, a collection of Dr. Peck's edited lectures (1979-1993) was published by Simon & Schuster in October 1993.

In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery was published by Hyperion in April 1995. It is also illustrated by his son, Christopher. It has been hailed by Publisher's Weekly as a "quirky, magical blend of autobiography, travel, spiritual meditation, history and Arthurian legend."

A second novel In Heaven As On Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife, was published by Hyperion in the spring of 1996.

The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety, is a synthesis of all Dr. Peck's work and was published by Simon & Schuster in January 1997.

With his background in medicine, psychiatry and theology he has also been in a unique position to write Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives in Euthanasia and Mortality, this first "topical" book, published by Harmony Books (Crown) in April 1997.

Golf and the Spirit: Lessons for the Journey was published by Harmony Books in 1999. It too is illustrated by Christopher Peck.

Dr. Peck was a nationally recognized authority on the relationship between religion and science, and the science o

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 648 reviews
Profile Image for Shawn.
226 reviews20 followers
November 15, 2020
After hearing Dr. Howard speak about this book I ordered it and was in the process of tossing it on the pile of my anticipated reading list when I decided to read the introduction. I never stopped reading and three days later I had finished this book, which for me proved to be a spell binding page-turner, in which Dr. Peck relates certain of his experiences as a psychiatrist, particularly in psychotherapy with evil people.

Perhaps the most mesmerizing thing about the book is Dr. Peck’s detailed characterizations of evil people, which occurs throughout. As I read these characterizations, at least half dozen different people that I know came to mind, including myself on more than one occasion.

Dr. Peck describes evil people as:
• foremost lazy and narcissistic
• as deceptive, greedy, self-absorbed, and slothful
• as people who refuse to acknowledge their own failures
• as those who project their evil onto others
• as those who thrive on confusion, lies, and twisted motives
• as those who desire control and dominion over others
• as those who are bored with divine things
• as scapegoating narcissists, who lash out at anyone offering reproach
• as those who would sacrifice anything or anybody to preserve self-image
• as those who cause suffering
• as those who are terrified their false pretense will break down
• as those who devote enormous energy into maintenance of pretense
• as those who inspire us to destroy instead of heal and to hate instead of pity
• etc.

Peck also speaks a good bit about Satan in the book. Peck confesses that he doesn’t know much about the devil, whether it’s a he, she, or it, whether its corporeal, a force or just a concept, just that it is; and that for those who align themselves with it, it becomes very real indeed. Peck believes that one can call the devil into existence or out of existence. Peck insists that Satan emerges in narcissism and has no power except in a human body. Peck says that Satan must use human beings to do its deviltry. Satan cannot murder except with human hands. The only power Satan has is through human belief in its lies and its principal weapon is establishing fear.

And Peck speaks of Hell in the book. Peck believes that those in hell are there by their own choice and that they could walk right out of hell if they would relinquish their pride and ask for forgiveness, but they are so caught up in hate that they actually despise goodness. Peck believes Hell dwellers are not in heaven because they personally despise heaven, as they openly despise all altruism and philanthropy. They relish in taking from others and giving little or nothing. For Peck, Hell is a state of being that people fashion for themselves, a state of separateness from God. Peck says that Hell is not the result of God’s repudiation of man, but of man’s repudiation of God.

Peck asserts there are only two states of being: submission to God’s goodness or refusal to submit to anything but ones own will, which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil. For Peck, there is no in-between. We must ultimately belong either to God or the devil. We must choose one enslavement or the other. And we can only combat evil with the presence of God. Peck points out that those who crusade not for “God in themselves” but against “the devil in others” never succeed. To be more “against the devil” than “for God” is exceedingly dangerous. Peck insists that if we believe that God created us in his own image then we should take that seriously and accept the responsibility involved in sustaining a Godly presence.

Peck reviews three theological explanations for evil: (1) Hinduism/Buddhism beliefs that evil is just the other side of the coin: for life there must be death, for growth decay, for creation destruction, etc., such that the distinction between good and evil is nothing but an illusion. (2) That evil is God’s creation because he endowed us with free will and free will requires that we have the ability to make the wrong choice. In this manner, evil may be envisioned as a sort of fertilizer, necessary to promote spiritual growth. (3) Classic dualism where evil is regarded not of God’s creation but a ghastly cancer deteriorating the world which God is combating.

The book is stock full of other fascinating concepts and thought provoking issues. Pecks suggests in the book that it is time for science to begin to study evil more closely. Peck sees great advances happening when science and religion merge to address evil, instead of being mutually exclusive. Peck rightly says that science without religion gives us the “lunacy of the arms race” and religion without science gives us the “lunacy of a Jonestown”. For Peck, the total separation of religion and science just doesn’t work.

Perhaps Pecks most radical message is reserved for the end of the book when he begins to castigate the tendency of humanity toward war. The truth is that war is nothing short of a living hell. A hell that spreads all about us. Peck reveals how unbridled evil leads us into war after war.

There are many more fascinating concepts awaiting you in this book. I can’t wait to read Peck again!
Profile Image for Joanna.
58 reviews14 followers
June 30, 2014
"Evil can be conquered only by love." "To somehow be tolerant and intolerant." "An almost Godlike compassion is required."


"Okay George, I'm going to say a few things to you and I want you to listen to them well. Because they are very important. Nothing is more important."

"You have a defect--a weakness--in your character, George. It is a very basic weakness, and it it the cause of all the difficulties we've been talking about. It's the major cause of your bad marriage. It's the cause of your symptoms, your obsessions and compulsions."

"Basically George, you are a kind of coward. Whenever the going gets a little bit rough, you sell out. When you're faced with the realization that your're going to die one of these days, you run away from it. You don't think about it, because it's 'morbid.' When you're faced with the painful realization that your marriage is lousy, you run away from that too. Instead of facing it and doing something about it, you don't think about that either. And then because your've run away from these things that are really inescapable, they come to haunt you in these form of your symptoms, your obsessions, and compulsions These symptoms could be your salvation, You could say, "These symptoms mean that I'm haunted. I better find out what these ghosts are, and clean them out of my house.' But you don't say that, because that would mean really facing some things that are painful.. So you try to run away from your symptoms, too. Instead of facing them and what they mean, you try to get rid of them. And when they're not so easy to get rid of, you go running to anything that will give you relief no matter how wicked or evil or destructive.

You plead you shouldn't be accountable... because it was [done] under duress. Of course it was [done] under duress. Why else would one do that, except to rid oneself of some kind of suffering?... The question is not duress. The question is how people deal with duress. Some withstand it and overcome it, ennobled. Some break and sell out. You sell out, and I must say, you do it rather easily.

Easily. Easy. That's a key word for you, George. You like to think of yourself as easygoing. Joe Cool. And I suppose you are easygoing, but I don't know where you're going easy, except into hell. You're always looking for the easy way out, George. Not the right way. The easy way. Where you're faced with a choice between the right way and the easy way, you'll take the easy way every time. The painless way. In fact, you'll do anything to find the easy way out, even it if means selling your soul.

As I said, I'm glad you're feeling guilty. If you didn't feel bad about taking the easy way out, no matter what, then I wouldn't be able to help you... If you're willing to face the painful realities of your life--your terrorful childhood, your miserable marriage, your mortality, your own cowardice--I can be of some assistance. And I am sure that we will succeed. But if all you want is the easiest possible relief form pain, then I expect you are the devil's man, and I don't see any way to help you. "

"The feeling that a healthy person often experiences in a relationship with an evil one is revulsion. The feeling of revulsion may be almost instant if the evil encountered is blatant. If the evil is more subtle, the revulsion may develop only gradually as the relationship with the evil one slowly deepens. The feeling of revulsion can be extremely useful to the therapist. It can be a diagnostic tool par excellence. It can signify more truly and rapidly than anything else that the therapist is in the presence of an evil human being."

"Revulsion is a powerful emotion that causes us to immediately want to avoid, to escape, the revolting presence, And that is exactly the most appropriate thing for a healthy person to do under ordinary circumstances when confronted with an evil presence: to get away from it. Evil is revolting because it is dangerous. It will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence. Unless you know very well what you are doing, the best thing you can do when faced with evil is to run the other way. The revulsion counter-transference is an instinctive or if you will, a God-given and saving early-warning radar system." p65

"There is another reaction that the evil frequently engender in us: confusion. Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, it was "as if I'd suddenly lost my ability to think." Once again, this reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse. The evil are "people of the lie" deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception. "

"While evil people are to be feared, they are also to be pitied."

"It is a thesis of this book that evil can be defined as a specific form of mental illness..."

"It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people, rather is is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it."

"The words "image," "appearance," and "outwardly" are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to BE good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their "goodness" is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are, the "people of the lie."

"Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves. They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach...Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable. "

"It is my experience that evil seems to run in families." (80)

"There is, I suspect, something basically incomprehensible about evil. But if not incomprehensible, it is characteristically inscrutable. The evil always hide their motives with lies."

"If one wants to seek out evil people, the simplest way to do so is to trace them from their victims. The best place to look, then, is among the parents of emotionally disturbed children or adolescents. I do not mean to imply that all emotionally disturbed children are victims of evil or that all such parents are malignant persons. The configuration of evil is present only in a minority of these cases. It is, however, a substantial minority."

"Evil was defined as the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves."(199)

It may be that the parents described were not themselves suffering, but their families were. And the symptoms of family disorder--depression, suicide, failing grades, --were attributed to the leadership. The suffering of the children was a symptom of the sickness of the parents."

"The relationship between evil and schizophrenia is not only a matter for fascinating speculation but also very serious research. Many (but certainly not all) of the parents of schizophrenic children seem to be ambulatory schizophrenics or evil or both."

"Wherever there is evil, there is a lie around." (135)

"Theirs is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or party, this capacity for empathy."

Profile Image for Dave.
696 reviews7 followers
November 5, 2020
An incredible eye-opener for anyone who has a family member who sucks the life out of everyone around them, who makes all who oppose them feel guilty for their actions, who seems to need to control everyone who gets near them, and who seems to personify evil. They are evil, this book explains it. Some cases he describes are horrifying, you will not believe how such people destroy other family members without feeling a bit of remorse or understanding they are themselves at fault. Having read this book, you will no longer feel you are to blame for the havoc they wreak, you will know how to fight them. I did not give this a full 5 stars because near the end of the book Dr. Peck explores exorcism as a possible means of fixing such people ..... that's a bit much, but in the face of evil, and with his strong religious beliefs, I guess Dr. Peck really can't be faulted.... ok 5 stars.
Profile Image for Trixie Fontaine.
356 reviews104 followers
February 15, 2013
There are things I don't like about this book, but I started reading it again because I own it and have no other convenient/available book in mind to address an issue of concern to me right now: why people are so shamelessly FUCKED UP, remorseless, and seemingly devoid of empathy with apparently no desire to be better or recognition that anything is wrong with them, even a little bit.

Once again I just couldn't continue when he starts in with the exorcism bullshit. Which in my placebo & ritual embracing mindset I supposedly can go along with a little ways, but in reality when it comes to reading this book I just can't keep reading it. I keep thinking I'm curious about it, but then I'm just NOT. He's just really smoothly full of shit in so many ways.
Profile Image for Dan Cooley.
Author 12 books8 followers
April 11, 2011
When I become dictator of seminaries the world over, People of the Lie will be required reading. The complete title is “People of the Lie. The Hope for Healing Human Evil.” It’s by M. Scott Peck, M.D. Copyright 1983. He believes your church is a magnet for evil.

Someone gave me this book when we were going through grief (a church split) in my first pastorate in Winnipeg, MB, Canada. It’s been one of my favorites ever since. The Bible talks about evil and even about a personality called “the devil.” Jesus talks about wolves and is murdered by some. Paul warns us about wolves coming from within our churches in Acts 20. But, in spite of it all, we remain taken by surprise. I had no classes on evil or wolves or even church jerks in seminary. I was ill-prepared.

Dr. Peck says, “Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they [the evil] are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others think about them . . . they dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, and outwardly seem to live lives that are above reproach. . . . While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness’ is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the ‘people of the lie.’” I wonder - what do evil people who intensely desire to appear good do on Sunday morning?

Dr. Scott was a psychiatrist and bestselling author (A Road Less Traveled). This book is his best. His story-telling of cases of evil, his following of personalities over the years, his pursuit of an answer to evil through academia, religion and exorcisms is astounding. Plus, it makes for stinking fun reading.

In the book evil is defined as “The exercise of political power—that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion—in order to avoid . . . spiritual growth.” In another place Dr. Scott defines evil as “the use of political power to destroy others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self.” Any names you’d like to insert here?

This isn’t a “Christian book.” It’s a retelling of Dr. Peck’s journey into evil while trying to help his “incurable” patients. In a rare reference to the Bible, Dr. Scott proposes that the most deeply possessed in the time of Christ weren’t those He cast the demons out of. It was the religious leaders who in their possession thought they were pure. They were used by the Devil to put a contract out on Jesus and kill him, and then felt justified because they didn’t put the money back into the offering plate. The evil believe they are good. They want to keep their demons.

Towards the end of the book, after giving the example of Eichmann being declared “perfectly sane” by a psychiatrist at his trial, Dr. Scott asks, “What are we do to with the evil when their masquerade of sanity is so successful, their destructiveness so ‘normal’? First, we must stop buying the masquerade and being deceived by the pretense…Evil can be defeated by goodness… The fact is, simple-sounding thought it may be, the methodology of love is so difficult in practice that we shy away from its usage… How is it possible to love people who are evil? … This process may be painful to the bearer of the light, occasionally even fatal.”

This book is terrific to the end – I wish I had read it back when it was written, almost 30 years ago. However, evil hasn’t changed any. Read People of the Lie and you’ll agree.

Profile Image for Anastasia.
46 reviews
February 21, 2008
This is probably one of the scariest books I've read, and the reason for this is due to it being non-fiction and based on Peck's experiences with certain patients. Peck tries to formulate a hypothesis of evil, but doesn't satisfy the scientific method, and even though his examples can be attributed to 'dark' characteristics or conditioned behaviors (learning through modeling, over time), providing a reasonable framework for his hypothesis, much of what Peck states (what constitutes 'evil') would be considered an amusement by scientists. Despite this, the book does strike home as it provides common examples. The patients in this book aren't celebrities in rehab, they're ordinary folk with dark desires, and compulsions. Some of them have no idea about the origin of their destructive behaviors, but as Peck (the psychiatrist) delves into their histories, there are scary patterns that loop back to childhood, that can make a reader explore their own histories, or stumble on people (within their life) who display characteristics that are discussed in the book: sociopaths, narcissists, generally people whose traits transform them into predators.

Profile Image for Ritz.
36 reviews20 followers
May 29, 2018
It's been a while since a book has riled me up as much.

The author attempts to ascertain the differences between a scientific and a religious approach to the investigation of human illnesses. In so doing he makes the claim that science contents itself with "little mysteries" while religion embraces "bigger mysteries" and it is this aspect of religion that he believes lends it more competency in studying and dealing with human evil. I disagree with his evaluation of science, and more so find his statement itself proof that religion is too vague and accepting an approach to truly tackle whatever human evil he purports. It would seem that the author's own opinion of evil is itself muddled and such uncertainty would not be entertained by any scientific approach and hence the imprecise nature of a religious approach is his best resort in exploring his claims.

Despite my qualms with his statements on science and religion I trudged on in the belief that perhaps I could focus on the psychology aspect of the book and skip the religious tidbits. Following an interesting account of a teenage boy on the throes of depression, the author makes noteworthy observations on the psychology of children. He then attempts to prove that the boy's parents are 'evil'. He explains how he was repulsed by the parents and did not offer them psychiatric help. He further attempts to justify his behaviour by claiming that such evil people are truly lost and no help can be useful to them. They are beyond our help and can only be dealt with by evasion. The problem with these statements is that a mere dozen pages ago the author had impressed on the importance of the study of evil being a "healing" one, one that is compassionate and understanding, which is in stark contrast to his actions with the parents. Clearly the author plays hard and fast with his attitudes with evil. This level of hypocrisy cannot possibly be entertained.

Ultimately I find his whole theory of evil a highly subjective one. "Evil" is too archaic a concept to truly serve a meaningful purpose in human psychology, atleast in the manner that the author describes it. The parents of the child can hardly be called evil, I believe, not least because it is a highly reductionist attitude; they are definitely ignorant and foolish, misguided and aloof to their responsibilities, this however does not makes them 'evil'. Furthermore, the authors believes that the repulsion that a non-evil person feels at encountering an evil person is a God given ability to differentiate good from bad. All of these views are highly counterproductive in actually advancing human psychology.

With all the pretentiousness and hypocrisy that pervades the book I left it unfinished. It's unfortunate that the different psychological segments are undermined by religious preaching.
Profile Image for Sophia.
73 reviews2 followers
March 1, 2008
I love this book. I read it before The Road Less Traveled, but I'm glad I did. I was thrown right into a new perspective of looking at evil as a psychosis and not a spiritual affliction. I began to see people in such a new light, where ironically, I felt more love, tolerance, and slight pity for these people who otherwise would have caused me to fear them. As a very empathetic person, I like to walk in other people's shoes. Although i do not ever care to know or be an evil person, I have a much better understanding of how the disease of evil makes certain individuals think and act.

Just recently I have been able to understand when someone is trying to manipulate me or force me to feel sorry for them for their gain and I am able to avert these individuals quite quickly. Whereas years ago I would have been caught in their webs and would have been given a feeling of an obligation to do things that I couldn't see were selfishly asked of me.

I also have met people who fit the exact profile of someone who is on the dark side a little too deeply, and you'll be shocked to know that they will read this book and begin to use it as ammunition to label everyone as evil and will never see it in themselves. I feel safe in saying that I'm not one of those people because I recognize that everyone has some of these tendencies, myself included, and that this book is not like V glasses, where you can use it to point out everyone who is a demon or something...it's a tool to better your understanding of the psychological conditions that most people possess, some way more than others, to protect yourself from the damage they otherwise may have inflicted on you.

Read it. Now. You will look at people totally differently and hopefully, you'll look at yourself more thoroughly as well.
Profile Image for Bob Johnson.
10 reviews3 followers
November 23, 2014
Peck's evolution from standard, "we can fix it with therapy" psychologist to a believer in unapologetic evil is an honesty those working in social services should realize. Sociopaths and psychopaths are out there; there is often a perception these people are "soulless" , but perhaps, it is simply another species of soul, predatory to the good nature of the human race.
Profile Image for Laura.
549 reviews28 followers
March 15, 2011
So, I'm definitely uncomfortable saying that I believe in "evil" exactly, but everything that Peck says makes sense. It's just hard for me to wrap my head around the concept as something different from other personality disorders. It might just be that the word "evil" has been so manipulated and co-opted for misaligned purposes that it has lost its true meaning.

This is an easy book to read (as far as reading about evil goes), and I really enjoyed reading each of the case studies that Peck presents. For sure, it's a controversial book, but I think the importance lies in the fact that Peck does not use "evil" as a way of dehumanizing a person in the same way that people often do with truly evil people. For example, we often call people "crazy" or "monsters," and, in doing so, I think we divorce off from the reality from which that cruelty grew. The danger lies in seeing "evil" as an outlying phenomenon, as if it is something extraordinary instead of being common and far more ordinary than we would like to admit.

Here are three of my favorite quotes from the book:

"The words 'image,' 'appearance,' and 'outwardly' are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to BE good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their 'goodness' is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the 'people of the lie.'" (p. 75)

"...there are a sufficient number of men and women in all culture and at all times who have achieved in their full adulthood a kind of gracefulness of existence so that we can generally say of them: 'They have become truly human.' By which we mean their lives seem almost to touch on the divine." (p. 125)

"If one ever has the good fortune to meet a living saint, one will have then met someone absolutely unique. Though their visions may be remarkably similar, the personhood of saints is remarkably different. This is because they have become utterly themselves. God creates each soul differently, so that when all the mud is finally cleared away, His light will shine through it in a beautiful, colorful, totally new pattern. Keats described this world as 'the vale of soul-making,' and whether they know it or not, when they help their patients clean away the mud, psychotherapists are engaged in the activity of saint-making. Certainly psychotherapists know it is their task routinely to free their patients to be themselves." (p. 264)
19 reviews1 follower
May 24, 2007
The human animal is quite complex, capable of acts of heroism and cowardliness, compassion and selfishness, honesty and deceit. I respect Peck and find his work fascinating because he embraces both a high and low view of humanity. In The People of the Lie, Peck unveils his dissatisfaction with psychology’s attempt, or lack there of, at naming evil. This, in fact, is the stated purpose of the book. Peck believes that to name something correctly creates a sense of predictability and control, thus ensuring a greater sense of agency. This work is intended to be the starting point in the discussion of the legitimacy and necessity of a psychology of evil.

Peck “names” evil by sharing a cornucopia of case vignettes. The characters in his vignettes all share a common bond- they are lazy and self-absorbed. What makes them evil? According to Peck, evil, at its core, is consistent deceit and narcissism. More specifically, “evil” people display a) consistent destructive scapegoating behavior, b) excessive, but subtle, intolerance of criticism, c) prominent concern with public image and d) intellectual deviousness. Sounds strikingly similar to the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So, the thing that remains unclear to me is Peck’s intended purpose for carving out a psychology of evil, as opposed to placing it under the umbrella of narcissism. The answer might reside in his desire to distinguish “sin” from psychopathology. A distinction that is difficult to make when dealing with various perspectives that contain illusive definitions. Although I appreciate his attempt, his distinction, in my opinion, fell short.

Besides “naming” evil, Peck offers little in the way of curative treatments. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter titled The Danger and The Hope, Peck did allude to the fact that love and acceptance can absorb evil, but it must be done carefully and intentionally. The lack of “answers” didn’t detract from the substance of this read. In fact, it enhanced it. Peck’s understanding of the human psyche is intriguing. He opens up new doors of exploration that many in our field won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. I give this read 9 out of 10 Freud stickers.
Profile Image for Daniel Petra.
Author 1 book15 followers
September 9, 2016
There are some people who have great difficulty dealing with evil in their life. Some people even prefer to deny that there is such a thing as evil. M. Scott Peck states clearly that: “... we are all in combat against evil.” This book has helped me an awful lot to deal with evil. When faced with evil I used to become very angry. I used to have great difficulty dealing with anger. This book deals with many aspects of evil in ways that I find very helpful and practical. M. Scott Peck utilizes several actual case studies to illustrate his points. He also deals with such subjects as: Possession and exorcism. An examination of group evil. As well as the dangers presented by evil, in its many form. He makes me feel that there may be real hope to overcome evil in our lives.
Profile Image for Steve Wiggins.
Author 6 books56 followers
June 15, 2019
I may be one of the few people who lived through the 1980s without ever reading anything by M. Scott Peck. His books were all over the place. His The Road Less Traveled became a bestseller and his brand of psychotherapy was well known. I read People of the Lie because it contributed, as I’ve noted elsewhere (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World), to the interest in demons that suddenly appeared in the years after The Exorcist. This book, however, was complex in a different way. Books about psychology often dredge up things from your past, but I was continually bothered by how freely Peck labeled people as “evil.”

I think I get what he was trying to do in the book—he wanted scientists and others to take evil seriously. In describing patients, mostly his own, he would point out where he thought they were evil (narcissistic or liars). Most of the people seemed like they were fairly normal folks, just trying to get along in the world. Of course, I wasn’t in the room at the time, but still, I tend to think most people are good and evil is a very strong word to use on others. I don’t think Peck was trying to be unkind, but still, evil?

The section on demons was understated, after all that. The material on My Lai was difficult to read. Nobody likes to be reminded how easily groups of people can be made to do what is truly called evil. This was one of those books that was fascinating and frustrating in turns. Peck’s overt advocacy of Christianity doesn’t prevent him from treating other religions with respect. It does, however, lead to some strangely contradictory outlooks. Because of Peck’s following his view on personified evil played into the spirit of the times, and, arguably continues to do so. Many years later he wrote a follow-up book on the exorcism cases he witnessed. I suspect I’ll read that one some day too.
Profile Image for Michael Connolly.
232 reviews36 followers
August 12, 2012
Understanding human evil is the subject of this book. The author takes both a theological and a therapeutic approach. He claims that he often comes across evil people in his work as a psychotherapist. The evil people are not necessarily the ones who come in for treatment. Often it is a family member of the evil person who comes in for treatment. Clearly, living with an evil person would create psychological problems. Some of Peck's examples are of parents who pretend to love their children, but actually try to sabotage them. One pair of parents even gave their son as a Christmas present the gun that his brother used to kill himself.
His conclusion is that the central defect of evil people is a fear of seeing their own flaws. They never see themselves as to blame, and instead always blame others. They do not want to fix themselves.
Self-deception is at the center, but they also go to great lengths to deceive others. Because they refuse to acknowledge their evil to therapists, they are difficult to heal.
An exorcism is an attempt to persuade the evil person to display his evil face. Even if we deny the existence of the supernatural, we can value exorcism as a therapeutic investigation. Atheists may not care for the religious arguments in this book, but evil is a serious problem that is rarely acknowledged by atheists. Ayn Rand, of course, is a notable exception.
Peck argues that it is a mis-reading of Christianity to believe that we should not judge others. Instead, Peck says that Jesus taught that we should first judge ourselves, before we judge others, and that when we do judge others, we should do so carefully. Peck also says that we should heal evil people by loving them. This reviewer cannot follow the author that far; it seems to me that every hour spent loving an evil person is an hour that should have been spent loving a good person.
160 reviews6 followers
September 9, 2016
"People of the lie" are what Peck calls evil people -- those who refuse to acknowledge their own sin, who scapegoat other people instead, not just occasionally but routinely. Peck believes evil people are both common and ordinary-looking, more likely to be a church deacon than a psychopath, because they create a respectable veneer that belies their callous, independent hearts. They often deceive others, but primarily they deceive themselves and avoid facing reality because they are so scared of it. Other people pay the price for their failure to love, repent etc.

Peck gives lots of case studies from his own psychiatric practice to support and illustrate his thesis. He also talks about exorcism and "group evil" (illustrated by the My Lai incident in Vietnam).

I think it's probably more accurate to say that there is a continuum of evilness -- that we all to some extent have narcissism, denial, etc. -- than to set apart some as "evil." Peck acknowledges the continuum, but I think he focuses on the truly evil because he wants the psychiatric/psychological community to acknowledge and study evilness. His goal is not so much to help evil people, who he has found in his practice to not want help, but primarily to help their victims -- including their children.

I don't agree with all of Peck's theology here -- he says he's a Christian and I can't say he's not, but he's a little skewed in places -- but I think this is a fascinating, insightful and helpful book. It's helped me to understand some members of my family and to have more peace about not pursuing closer relationships with them.

I only gave it 3 stars for theological reasons but there's some wise nuggets here that I've never seen elsewhere, so I recommend this book.
Profile Image for Nikki Whipple.
89 reviews
December 24, 2018
Dated and terrible. Equating mental illness or personality disorders with evil is disheartening. Jibberish about neurosis start with traumatic toilet training. I read three chapters and could not go on. These days, Peck’s style of speaking to his patients would be considered unprofessional.
22 reviews1 follower
October 26, 2010
I can't give any higher than 1 star to a book I could not force myself to finish. I disagreed with his basic premise, and yet, I still kept reading. I sat through his case studies of "evil" people who seemed more like people lacking basic functioning and parenting skills and less like any sort of "evil." I read it solidly, continuing on because I kept thinking there was a pay off sooner or later. For two weeks, I forced myself to read it just 20 minutes before bed, and then just 10, every other day. I just realized this morning that it's been over a week since I've even looked at it, and I've simply given up.

I think that his arguments were illogically posited, and, although no specific examples spring to mind, I kept thinking that his if/then statements were in continuous breakdown.

Ugh. I'll gladly be handing this one back unfinished.

Profile Image for Owlseyes .
1,642 reviews262 followers
Want to read
November 9, 2018
MY musings:"evil" and "sin" and "resurrection" ...and many other expressions …. are expressions of the religious domain; just like “gene” and “mitochondria” and “psychosis” …are of the science domain….Science separated from Religion."

One who had read, or known about, “The road less traveled” would argue with Peck: so, discipline is not enough to solve all problems.

Evil itself is a human problem, according to Peck. [And that’s a bit new] Science should address this problem; the evil problem.

“Evil, the ultimate disease”.

In an interview I watched, Peck was confronted with these questions: isn’t “evil” a moral issue? Why taking “evil” as a diagnostic category just like the other medical aberrations/diseases? Why is evil a specific disease?

Peck replied with the distinction made by Jew theologian Martín Buber: there are those “sliding” (into evil) and those who “have slid”. The latter ones “no longer come back”.

He gave the example of a case he had: the man who had made a pact with the devil.

There are evil people.

More interestingly, Peck at a certain point of his life was investigating about this “evil” definition. He asked several members of his family and the definition provided by his (then) 8 year old son Chris, sort of pleased him the most. Chris told father that evil is “live” spelt backwards. Which made father think: [son was right and] “Evil is a force against life”; but he thought also: if we kill it, “we become contaminated”, we become “killers”.

He recalled the words of Jesus on Satan: you’re a killer, a murderer; while Jesus said of himself: I came that they have life and that more abundantly.

In that interview Peck gave numbers: only 2 to 3 % of population would fall on that category: the insane that “no longer come back”.

“Evil interferes with growth …we got to know what our enemy is”; the danger within us.

Peck has, nonetheless, hope in healing human evil. He’s optimistic because the human race has been “improving”.
Profile Image for Benjamin Espen.
262 reviews19 followers
March 5, 2013
A fascinating and riveting work on human evil. I was most interested in the case studies that formed the bulk of the first half of the book, and far less interested in the theoretical application of group psychology that formed the last half. The case studies in the book could well describe someone you know. I appreciated the honesty of Peck regarding his feelings about his patients. I could well relate to his frustration and revulsion, it gave his accounts more verisimilitude.

I remain unconvinced of Peck's identification of evil with a specific form of personality disorder. While the people he describes certainly were evil, albeit of a mundane, domestic variety, I found the definition flat and truncated. It just seemed to be missing something. I found it very interesting that Peck thinks that Augustine's idea of evil as an absence of good has been discarded, when in fact it remains a part of Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic philosophy and theology in this day. It is even more surprising given that his attempt to define evil as disease is a subset of the idea that evil is a privation.

The attempt to explain the group psychology behind the MyLai massacre was ultimately unconvincing, but it did remind me of the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, specifically the necessity of a scapegoat for group cohesion. However, on the terms of Peck's argument, what I found remarkable was that so few massacres occurred. His analysis made the events seem inevitable, so the real question becomes not why MyLai happened, but why there weren't hundreds more MyLais.

Overall a very interesting read. One of the most notable insights of this book is nicely summed up by the reviewer who brought my attention to this book, the late John J. Reilly. "The people whose cases Peck describes were seriously sick and hated their sickness, but they could not get better because in some fundamental sense they had chosen to be that way." A psychological insight with shades of Dante.
Profile Image for Tracy.
79 reviews5 followers
September 19, 2008
It's been a while since I read this book, but I thought it was very strong and insightful.

It explores the nature of narcissism and the people who inflict it on you.

Again, this sounds paranoid! But, people who do care about others can be hurt terribly by people who can only see the world from their own point of view.

Peck explains how people like this function, how to identify them, and he gives narratives about narcissists he has dealt with to help underscore the types of behavior that they commit. The narratives, are, of course, the easiest to remember - like the parents whose oldest son committed suicide. A year after his death, they gave their youngest son the gun the boy used to kill himself. They couldn't understand why that youngest son became depressed.

They couldn't because, as narcissists, they only thing they can understand is their own world, their own experiences, their own cares. They do not and will never truly empathize with another person, and there is -- surprisingly -- no saving them. There is no point in working with them; we must simply understand that they are incapable of anything besides feeling all and only what they feel.

Peck's descriptions of these people is different from what I expected. His chapter on exorcisms was strange for me, but I saw his point - it helped illuminate how people do care about what they do and about others even in the midst of evil.

This book helped me be able to identify people who could hurt me, and I appreciate that a great deal.
Profile Image for Emily Peery.
86 reviews
May 16, 2008
Okay, Abby. . .

This book is fantastic. It is depressing--it's about evil people. Remember "The Road Less Travelled"? It's the opposite. I didn't love it because it's happy, but because it offers insight into absolutely evil people. Now, "evil" is tricky--most people don't believe in evil anymore. And even trickier--evil people make you feel crazy. If you challenge them, try to stand in reality with them around--YOU feel crazy. Because what makes them evil is not that they kill people, or hate people, or do anything that we would easily identify them as evil. It is that they are so rigidly attached to their world view, they will do ANYTHING to preserve it.

It's called "People of the Lie" because, in order to see the world as they want to, they engage in self-deception to an unimaginable degree. It's not that they are lying TO YOU, they are lying TO THEMSELVES, and secondly to you. But it feels true because they really believe it.

This book is great if you like psychology, like analyzing people, and are unfortunate enough to be forced to deal with these rigid, self-deceptive people.

But, reader, certainly YOU don't know any such people. Certainly YOU could not be such a person!

Seriously, I don't blame anyone for not reading this. It's sort of a niche book.
48 reviews5 followers
August 13, 2008
I am finding this book a fascinating read (which totally surprised my daughter, since I'm not much given to reading psychology books!) But in light of experiences in my life over the past year, it has helped me to wrap my mind around how people you loved and thought you knew can change in ways you never imagined. It even covers how groups of people can come to accept and tolerate evil in their midst. I don't agree with all the author says (of course!) and have some additional ideas as well, but I would highly recommend this book to anyone whose life has been affected by people who lie....to themselves and others.
Profile Image for Kevin.
256 reviews8 followers
July 16, 2014
Peck asserts that evil is a personality trait that can be diagnosed clinically. He is smart enough to realize on some level the fundamental absurdity of this assertion, and so (sigh) the book equivocates on this point endlessly. Adding to the static is a confusion between human evil and supernatural evil, complete with a glowing gloss-over of his observation of two exorcisms.

Considered out of the context of the rest of this drivel, the chapter "MyLai: An Examination of Group Evil" is insightful and worth reading.
Profile Image for Mary.
281 reviews12 followers
October 3, 2018
“The purpose of this book is to encourage us to take our human life so seriously that we also take human evil far more seriously….”

Attributed to Erich Fromm : “…the desire of certain people to control others—to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredictability and originality, to keep them in line.” “whose aim it is to avoid the inconvenience of life by transforming others into obedient automatons, robbing them of their humanity” As opposed to “one who appreciates and fosters the variety of life forms and the uniqueness of the individual….”

Commenting on a sad case study: “Whenever there is a major deficit in parental love, the child will, in all likelihood, respond to that deficit by assuming itself to be the cause of the deficit, thereby developing an unrealistically negative self-image.”

Compares malignant narcissism (a defense against psychic harm) to evil. “The evil deny the suffering of their guilt—the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection—by casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. They cause suffering. The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society.” “Think of the psychic energy required for continued maintenance of the pretense so characteristic of the evil! They perhaps direct at least as much energy into their devious rationalizations and destructive compensations as the healthiest do into loving behavior. Why? What possesses them, drives them? Basically, it is fear. They are terrified that the pretense will break down and they will be exposed to the world and to themselves. They are continually frightened that they will come face-to-face with their own evil. Of all emotions, fear is the most painful.” “…terror … [is] so interwoven into the fabric of their being, that they may not even feel it as such.” “ghastly old age” “surprisingly obedient to authority [Putin]” “evil.. [is] a kind of immaturity” “Evil [is] defined most simply as the use of political power to destroy others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self.”
“What we call nationalism is more frequently a malignant national narcissism than it is a healthy satisfaction in the accomplishments of one’s culture.”
By Peck’s definition, Trump unambiguously fits the bill. We’re f#%*ed.
I’m undecided about evil. Once you apply it to another human, is there any recourse? Exorcism? I think of evil as a dangerous, dehumanizing moniker. At the extreme, Stalin was a person who was considered a god or an evil demon. The Terror was enabled by his supplicants. Stalin thought of himself, at least sometimes, in the third person, an ideal more than flesh and blood. He crafted an image beyond human. The myth helped him get away with murder On a much smaller, less violent scale, Trump parallels. His acolytes revere him to the point of accepting formerly intolerable behavior, crimes, instability and daily lies. The people surrounding him prevaricate, lie, make excuses and feed his enormous, fragile ego. Rules need not apply. People working for him are propping him up. But is he evil? Can he be stopped?
Profile Image for caitlin.
85 reviews22 followers
May 18, 2021
This is possibly the worst book about psychology I have ever read. For reference, I have a Master's degree in psychology. This will be a lengthy review because I have a LOT of thoughts.

Firstly, this book is not scientific so much as it is a very overdramatic sense of moral superiority packaged as pseudoscience. From the very first chapter "Handle with Care", Peck begins painting this picture of a horrifyingly dangerous phenomenon, evil, that he can't even properly define. There is no sense of how he would even try to investigate this phenomenon empirically, and his definitions are vague at best and completely paradoxical at worst.

Secondly, you will get an overload of Freudian psychoanalytical nonsense in this book. I'm not saying that the psychoanalytic perspective is devoid of merit, but when you begin suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea to sleep with your patient to give her the "mothering" she clearly desires in her unconscious, all those merits fly right out of the window. Seriously, I have no idea how this man was allowed to practice as a therapist. The ethics were beyond questionable from the start in telling George that he's a coward who has sold his soul to the devil, but it got worse and worse and worse.

Thirdly, I shouldn't even have to say this, but science is objective. It's one thing to use religion as a source of strength for a client who relies upon faith in times of crisis, it is another thing to force religion down the throat of anyone you treat and go on about how they should probably have an exorcism. I cannot even describe the amount of furious scribbling I did in the margins of this book because of how completely ridiculous it is.

Lastly, and most importantly, there is a fundamental issue with essentially equating mental illness with "evil." Anyone who thinks this has no business working in this field. If Dr. Peck took a moment to get off his moral high horse and stop condescending to and infantilizing his patients, he might see that every person is a combination of good and bad actions, but that bad actions do not make an evil person. I work with individuals who are incarcerated, many of whom Dr. Peck would probably label as evil. They are not. They are people. As Bryan Stevenson says, we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done. I could go on and on about this atrocious book, but I really don't want to spend any more mental energy on it.

If I had rolled my eyes one more time while reading this, I think they would have fallen straight out of my head. Zero stars.
53 reviews7 followers
December 26, 2008
Evil fascinates me. It operates throughout our society largely unnoticed by people who fail to identify it (not as easy as you may think it to be), or by optimistic people who would like to think it does not exist. While Peck doesn't get in detail about the two exorcism he partook in, he clearly identifies evil on three different levels. This book really opens your eyes to the psychology of evil, the shadows, and the real possibility of demons. I recommend this book to anyone, even though I picked it up more for research.
Profile Image for Anda T..
92 reviews92 followers
September 30, 2013
This book was so lame... I was hoping to read about SCIENCE, not demons and God. I just couldn't continue when he started with the exorcism bullshit!
Profile Image for Amanda.
407 reviews9 followers
March 8, 2017
Definitely one of the scariest and most disturbing books I've read, but it's a great book. The examples of his patients that he considered evil show exactly how these people are and how they operate. If you've always wondered why some people are evil and want to try to understand why some people are evil this book will definitely shed light on evil and at the end is a testament to the power of love to overcome it. Indeed, the author agrees by the end of the book that our only hope to heal evil is with love. This book became so disturbing I had to take a break from reading it and was anxious as I read the rest of it, but overall I'm glad I read it. I felt like I knew some of the things he pointed out about evil and evil people, especially the fact that they are the "people of the lie" and evil always involves lies in one way or another. Having come into contact with several evil people in my life I agree that human evil is common and that many people are indeed screwed up in one way or another at the hands of their parents. This was a rather grim book and the only hope came at the very end of the book in the last few pages. I agree that we should pity those who have succumbed to evil because they are desperately and deeply afraid of themselves and the truth. They can't face it and that keeps them stuck. They don't want to grow, they don't want to change, and they create chaos for themselves and others. We have to use love to smother hate and evil.

"Evil can be defeated by goodness. When we translate this we realize what we dimly have always known: Evil can be conquered only by love."

"I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others - to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken - to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world."

"There are dozens of ways to deal with evil and several ways to conquer it. All of them are facets of the truth that the only ultimate way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living human being. When it is absorbed there like blood in a sponge or a spear into one's heart, it loses its power and goes no further."
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