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Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  352 ratings  ·  37 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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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  352 ratings  ·  37 reviews


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Richard
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 onto
...more
Jennn
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
...more
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
...more
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
Tristan
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
...more
Jonah
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...
Paul
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.
...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
...more
Irfan
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
...more
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.
Becky
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.
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.
Leonardo
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
Rhiannon Jenkins
Jul 11, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Some vaguely interesting points, but incredibly badly written.
Cormac
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
...more
James
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"
...more
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
...more
Marilynn
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.
Maria
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I read this book for another English project, I actually chose this book on my own. This book was very interesting and not a tedious read despite it being non-fiction and mostly informational. It was a very different experience to what I had usually been reading because I'm usually reading fictional fantasy books. I really enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to people who wonder about the different causes and examples of human violence and cruelty.
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.
Jt
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book had a ton of interesting points to make. It would be a great book for a discussion group as I had several discussions with friends about points the author was trying to make.
My only complaint about the book would be that some of the authors points came across to me as almost excusing of very heinous acts.
Heather Fryling
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baumeister's Evil is a valuable foundational text in understanding the psychology of evil. While some of his interpretations have been questioned by more recent researchers, his definition and denunciation of the myth of pure evil is invaluable both for understanding and for preventing continuing cycles of reciprocal violence.
Kipi
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kipi by: Dr. Berna - Nova Southeastern University
An excellent exploration into why human beings make the choices they do. At times it almost seems that the author becomes too balanced in his perspective between perpetrators of crime and their victims, but he never excuses, only attempts to explain. The most helpful chapter was "The Myth of Pure Evil."
Sam S.
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book with insights for my daily life as well as understanding global conflicts. It makes me wish I'd continued with a Ph.D. in psychology - this is the kind of study I dreamed of. Brilliant work.
Erroll Treslan
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best of class.
Ed
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting psychologists insights into violence and other evils.
Tina
Oct 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
Very very good so far. This is for my terrorism class. Distrubing, but insightful all the same!
Chris
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was the perfect blend -- for me -- of scientific study and discourse for laymen. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to keep perspective on life and human interaction.
Barb
Difficult to read because of subject matter, but very insightful.
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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
“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.” 6 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.” 5 likes
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