Thinking about EVIL!

evil baumeisterHello all!! Not to play with the title too much or anything, but I’ve been really bad in the last few days about blogging. So I have a week’s worth of posts around the theme of being bad to make up for it…

Starting with this review of  a review of Baumeister’s work. Now I probably have to put in a ton of disclaimers because to be frank I’m not a psychologist or an expert on this subject. Fortunately this book is written in such a clear and logical fashion that even a totally bananas monkey, like me, can get a lot out of it. All the ideas are disseminated in a straight forward manner, without lofty prose to obscure the meaning, and with very solid reasoning behind the arguments put forth. As is probably apparent from the title, this book was heavy going at times- the subject matter is no picnic after all- however I was often grateful for the clinical style which allowed for fair analysis and conclusions to be drawn.

Apart from that, there were plenty of other small things to like about this book. One of the fantastic things about Evil is that in the introduction Baumeister lays out his intention to forgo political correctness, which therefore promises the reader there will be no skirting round the issues. With regard to politics, I did find coincidental signposting (even foreshadowing) of some more current ideologies rather telling (for instance, “countering the hatred of women with the hatred of men is a bad strategy” (82) ).

I did have a fair few niggling issues with the book, which left me not entirely satisfied. There were often moments where I was filling in the gaps of his argument- yet when I looked back overall Baumeister had addressed every one of those points. Perhaps it is just the way my brain works, but I felt like I’d write something in the margins and then see it discussed thirty pages later. I just felt like it could have been a little tighter.

Personally, I also felt like his arguments from a military perspective could also be lacking- for instance there was not one single reason for bombing Dresden, but rather the usual complex multiplicity of motives that arise as war escalates.

My final complaint was that I could not help but think of House, every so often, when he discussed issues from the perspective of the perpetrators…

everybody lies house.gif

So while it provided good grounds for further exploration, I was left with many open-ended questions on subjects he touched on. But, considering the fact I was left with a thirst to discover more, I would say that this was in no way a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5 bananas


So are you interested in the psychology of evil? Will you be checking out this book? Let me know in the comments!

26 thoughts on “Thinking about EVIL!

  1. Interesting. So you felt it’s still relevant even though it was published in 1999? Or do you think there are areas that could be updated to reflect world events since the publication?

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    1. Yeah absolutely- I would bear in mind that this was considered the sort of standard bearer for a lot of later theories. It’s by no means where research into this subject should end, but I would definitely say it’s a good place to start. Also, with regard to updating it, it’s more theoretical and not a diagnostic tool, so I would say it’s year of publication is less relevant. I’d say instead, as I mentioned, that a lot of the theories in the book I’ve seen developed further (more in discussions though- I decided to read this book before tackling others on the same subject, since they claim to have drawn from it) Sorry for getting a little rambly there- hope that all makes sense.


  2. My fiance is consistently fascinated by the motives and means of serial killers and unusual murders, probably the most clear cut examples of ‘evil’. I’ve lost count of the amount of Jack the Ripper books she has accumulated.

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  3. Oh, I definitely love the subject–not just because of my field of study though! I haven’t heard about this novel, but I’d definitely check it out now! Fantastic review, with great examples of what you like/disliked! Have you ever heard/read anything by Philip Zimbardo? He’s had some very fascinating psychology experiments done that never go unmentioned in any psychology course. His TED talk about the psychology evil is pretty fascinating. Or you could check out his book, The Lucifer Effect? I have the impression that you might have already heard about all this though hahah 😀

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    1. Ah that’s so cool that this is your subject- you probably know a lot more on this!! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Oh yes I have heard of him (he’s the prison study guy) and intended to read his book too- it’s just that this one was published first. But I will definitely go check it out, especially since you just mentioned it!! And I really need to watch his ted talk now!! 😀


  4. Not sure if I’ll check out the book, but I am interested in the psychology of evil, mostly know what the motivations for people who do evil acts are, what are their perspective on such acts, and how they rationalize it.

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    1. Yes, that’s a lot of what this book is about. It explains in a lot of ways how people perceive themselves. If you do check it out, it’s very interesting! I think there are supposed to be better books that come later, but this is seen as a bit of a forerunner for the field

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  5. What an intriguing book. This is not something I would have picked up, personally– is this part of your quest to read more books you’d never consider picking up or has this been on your TBR for a while? If the latter, why?

    Psychology is super interesting, but with a heavy subject like evil I don’t know if I’d enjoy it that much. Perhaps there is an “Entry Level” book to the psychology of evil somewhere? 😉

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    1. Thank you. It’s more for picking up books that are outside my comfort zone and because I’ve (randomly) become interested in psychology. I just saw so many references to this that I figured I’d give it a go. Yeah- I wouldn’t put it down as enjoyable at all. It was educational and really interesting though. I’d probably say this is the “Entry Level” book for sure, cos it was easy enough for someone like me (aka someone that peruses this stuff for fun) to understand.

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