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Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  423 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Why is there evil, and what can scientific research tell us about the origins and persistence of evil behavior? Considering evil from the unusual perspective of the perpetrator, Baumeister asks, How do ordinary people find themselves beating their wives? Murdering rival gang members? Torturing political prisoners? Betraying their colleagues to the secret police? Why do cyc ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 19th 1999 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1996)
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Jul 20, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Jonathan Haidt in "The Happiness Hypothesis"
Strong recommendation from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. In chapter four, “The Faults of Others”, Haidt explores hypocrisy as the result of our blindness to our own flaws and over-attention to those of others. One subheading is “The Myth of Pure Evil”, and Haidt draws extensively on Baumeister:
Baumeister is an extraordinary social psychologist, in part because in his search for truth he is unconcerned about political correctness. Sometimes evil falls out of a clear blue sky ont
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book that takes a unique perspective in its attempts to understand evil. Consider our normal every day responses to evil and injustice on the evening news: shock and moral outrage. While these are perfectly understandable reactions, this book contends they cloud the issue when it comes to understanding human evil. The author argues that if we want to understand human evil, we have to lay aside our natural responses and look at these situations not from the perspective of the victims but instea ...more
Aug 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic, 2009
I will say my biggest complaint first so I can just get it out in the open: it's not as good as "The Lucifer Effect" - if given the choice of the two, I will go for Zimbardo's book every time. However, this is still a good book and a good companion to Zimbardo's book.

It is older than The Lucifer Effect (being written in 1997), so there wasn't much on the question and ethics of the conflicts happening right now. Although it does discuss several other situations from the obvious reign of Hitler a
Adrienne Morris
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer or an executioner? You need go no further than your own mind. Well, you have to go a little further, but not much. Turns out people who do evil things are a lot like you and me.

Have you ever noticed when arguing with a spouse that you’re always right–until you’ve had a few quiet moments to think about the part you played in flooding the basement? Have you noticed too that when you drink the argument about how well the basement was cleaned aft
Ellis Amdur
A very readable blend of data from social psychology and anthropology, presenting a viewpoint of evil and violence from the perspective of the perpetrator, not the victim. If one wants to understand how perpetrators view themselves, this is among the very best places to start. Particularly valuable is Baumeister’s chapter that establishes that criminally violent individuals usually have high (albeit brittle) self-esteem rather than popular psychology’s common fantasy that their self-esteem is lo ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very good book, even if Baumeister tends to repeat himself. He drives home the point that to really understand evil (defined as the infliction of harm in a way that disrupts friendly, orderly, comprehensible existence), we must temporarily suspend our empathy with the victim. This permits us to appreciate the extent to which evil depends on context, and makes us realize that most people, given the circumstances, would be complicit in evil.

Baumeister starts off exploring the "myth of
K.A. Ashcomb
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evil is in the eyes of the beholder, and it's relative to the circumstances. Baumeister looks evil through the eyes of the perpetrator to understand what leads to violence and other horrendous acts which cause suffering to others. He writes that to understand evil and cruelty, we need to abandon the notion that evil acts are one-sided and that the perpetrator is this mythical evil with inherited badness. He goes on explaining that circumstances affect our actions, and also, that nothing is unila ...more
Paul Froehlich
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evil isn’t as black and white as most people assume. That’s the controversial thesis of psychologist Roy Baumeister, author of more than 20 books. This fascinating 400-page tome challenges conventional wisdom with a number of surprising contentions:

* Ordinary people who aren’t deranged sociopaths are capable of committing many acts of evil.
* Low self-esteem does not account for violence; it’s more likely to come from individuals with high self-esteem who feel their self-image threatened or ins
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely well-researched and informational; a must-read for anyone intending to understand how to move forward and advocate for intelligent policy in a world that many see as increasingly dangerous and dark...
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
This was a fascinating read! Author decided to kill the myth of pure evil and show evil from not only victim side, but from perpetrator too. It's difficult, dirty and fascinating, to see evil-doer reasoning. But not also that - by removing the myth of pure evil, the author shows how everybody, how good people, can do evil things.

It shows human nature and behaviour naked and I think it may be a hard read for some people.
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I could barely get through 50 pages of this naive book. The foreword was written by a colleague who said that the author's work "complimented" his own. On page 53, this sentence occurs: "Two versions prevail in the victims' accounts, and in fact the two are probably."

Hypothetical perpetrator/victim accounts, such as a woman buying a diet Coke and some chips at the airport. When she sits down at the only available seat, the malevolent-looking man across from her starts eating chips from her bag.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: junk
Why is he going in circles? Because he has nothing to say. Just some musings and navel gazing. And his proof: legends, fairy tales, just like the illiterate goat herders of the desert millennia ago, this guy can believe it all and than imagine an explanation to this fantasy. So yes, one can talk about evil and cruelty: this guy has a comfy life out of taxpayer money instead of telling the same stories in front of a tin cup in any of the many subway stations all over America.
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This brilliant and insightful book examines evil from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator. When taking the perpetrator’s perspective, we find that people who do things we see as evil, from abuses all the way to genocide, rarely think they are doing anything wrong. They almost always see themselves as responding to attacks and provocations in ways that are justified. They often think that they themselves are victims. 

"Evil exists primarily in the eye of the beholder, especially in the
Caw Miller
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to see many reasons why people do bad things, read Evil. If you want to see many examples why people do evil things, read Evil. I don't know if reading Evil will keep you from becoming evil, but it's worth the price.
Curtis Anderson
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heavy read, super interesting- evil and society's perceptions of 'pure evil' throughout history.
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and insightful read I did for my Psychology of Evil course. Would definitely recommend for anyone interested in learning about reasons behind evil.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
His beginning explanation over "evil being in the eye of the beholder", seems ridiculous to me. As humans we have constructed imagined realities . Which means at this point in time we know what to consider Evil. And what not. You cant just tell me that a perpetrator believed he innocently did nothing wrong raping someone. At this point in time, as I said, its common knowledge that rape indeed is evil. It doesn't rely on the perspective of the person. That is why jail exist, along with other reas ...more
Rod Van Meter
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Came highly recommended by a friend. Mostly I found myself nodding along; it largely confirms my thoughts on how humans probably work, with one important exception: he makes a big distinction between those with strong self-confidence but who feel threatened when challenged, and those who actually have a weak self-image. We often talk about those who lash out at others when challenged (as a certain U.S. president does) in terms of someone who deep inside is insecure, but Baumeister here says that ...more
Aug 31, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference  ·  review of another edition
Baumeister examined evil from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator. When taking the perpetrators perspective, he found that people who do things we see as evil, from spousal abuse all the way to genocide, rarely think they are doing anything wrong. They almost always see themselves as responding to attacks and provocations in ways that are justified. They often think that they themselves are victims. But, of course, you can see right through this tactic; you are good at understanding t ...more
Arjun Pathy
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
It's relatively clear that this book was written such that individual chapters could be taken out and distributed as readings; he repeats himself quite heavily from chapter-to-chapter. That being said, a lucid and interesting look at the social psychology of evil, so as long as you don't mind repetition, it's a very worthwhile read.
Scott Swires
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book 20 years ago and it still impacts my view of people. Especially as a pastor, understanding how people and actions are often perceived into premodern categories has helped me fight my impulse to treat people based on what they’ve done and not who they are. A great read.
Rhiannon Jenkins
Jul 11, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Some vaguely interesting points, but incredibly badly written.
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those capable of going a few steps further in trying to understand the 'mystery of iniquity'
Evil, in this psychological study, is taken only in the sense of external violence. The study considers that evil can be better understood if looked at from the perpetrator's point of view, not from that of the victim. The thesis is that the perpetrator fundamentally does not view his actions as evil. This mentality is attributed to four main roots: desire for material gain, threatened egotism, idealism, and the pursuit of sadistic pleasure.
Idealism is taken in the sense of a firm belief that
Ville Kokko
This book blew my mind after it had been prepared by my reading The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The thing about this book... It's about the psychology of why people commit evil acts, sure, but that's not the remarkable part. What's so important about is that it explores the psychology of why it's difficult for us to understand why people commit evil acts. We can read about all the reasons ...more
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults and adolescents interested in psychology and sociology
Outstanding! The author organized his information meticulously and logically and backed it with extensive references to experiments and studies. He noted that it is necessary to judge and try to prevent evil acts or punish people when they do evil, but that to study and understand the phenomenon he needed to temporarily treat evil behavior - that is, action that is deliberately taken, knowing that it will harm someone - as a values-free subject. At the end he reiterated this point and added that ...more
Maron Anrow
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
If you are interested in psychological explanations for why otherwise "normal" people engage in violent and cruel acts (e.g., Hitler's nazis, the Abu Ghraib incident), then you will like this book. Baumeister--being an experimental social psychologist--did not talk about nearly as much research as I would have liked, but I can forgive him given that this book was written for a general audience and not a group of psychological scientists.

As a side note, he stole a lot of his ideas or "principles"
Max Beliy
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a comprehensive and honest book about complex and controversial topic. The question of character of its perpetrators, and of their motivations, their feelings can be puzzling. This book is a key to that puzzle

There are countless books on crime, serial killers , genocides and war crimes. All in all you can save a a lots of time if you read this book first. It has insights into human psychology which ring true, and are supported by vivid examples. This book gives a comprehensive map and p
John Wiswell
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Psychology readers, social studies readers, anthropology readers, philosophy readers
Roy Baumeister's fascinating examination of human cruelty. "Evil" is one of those words we often use and rarely define, and in this thorough examination Baumeister explores its every facet, from how we identify evil and why, and into its causes. Equal parts amateur philosophy and psychology, Baumeister's study goes from current events to history, to religion, to literature and film. Baumeister writes very plainly, so non-academic readers who are interested shouldn't hesitate to pick this up.
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. The book gives insight into the causes of evil from several perspectives. Topics include material from history, literature, philosophy and anthropology. Some concepts explored are: egotism, ambition, greed, revenge, ambivalence, guilt, and self rationalizations. Baumeister's work on this emotional subject gave me a better understanding of some contemporary evil events such as, for example, the 9/11 terrorist attack and the recent Madoff swindle.
Ogi Ogas
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My ratings of books on Goodreads are solely a crude ranking of their utility to me, and not an evaluation of literary merit, entertainment value, social importance, humor, insightfulness, scientific accuracy, creative vigor, suspensefulness of plot, depth of characters, vitality of theme, excitement of climax, satisfaction of ending, or any other combination of dimensions of value which we are expected to boil down through some fabulous alchemy into a single digit.
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Dr. Roy F. Baumeister is Social Psychology Area Director and Francis Eppes Eminent Scholar at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, and aggression. And enduring theme of his work is "why people do stupid things." ...more

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206 likes · 44 comments
“The myth of pure evil depicts innocent victims fighting against gratuitously wicked, sadistic enemies. The myth encourages people to believe that they are good and will remain good no matter what, even if they perpetrate severe harm on their opponents. Thus, the myth of pure evil confers a kind of moral immunity on people who believe in it. As we will soon see, belief in the myth is itself one recipe for evil, because it allows people to justify violent and oppressive actions. It allows evil to masquerade as good.” 12 likes
“Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil. Evil exists primarily in the eye of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim.” 6 likes
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