Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

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9780805071658: Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

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 cycles of revenge so often escalate?

Baumeister casts new light on these issues as he examines the gap between the victim's viewpoint and that of the perpetrator, and also the roots of evil behavior, from egotism and revenge to idealism and sadism. A fascinating study of one of humankind's oldest problems, Evil has profound implications for the way we conduct our lives and govern our society.

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About the Author:

Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., holds the E. B. Smith Professorship in Liberal Arts at Case Western Reserve University. Since receiving his doctorate in social psychology from Princeton University, he has received numerous fellowships and awards. He has published nearly 150 scientific works and is cited in numerous sources in the popular media. Baumeister has authored or co-authored nine other books, including Losing Control: How and Why Self-Regulation Fails and Meanings of Life. He lives on the shores of the Great Lakes.

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, M.D., the Father of Cognitive Therapy, is University Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, and President of The Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy. He is the author and co-author of twelve books and over 350 articles and chapters.

From Scientific American:

The question of why people hurt others is perhaps humanity's oldest and most urgent, long the subject of literature and religion. Can social science provide any answers? Social psychologist Baumeister assembles the available research, such as experiments on how people justify small transgressions and react to hypothetical situations, as well as close readings of accounts by murderers, rapists and torturers. He concludes that "pure evil"--brutality inflicted on innocent victims for sadistic pleasure--is largely a myth. Most violence springs from the same sources as other human behavior: ambition, lust, fear, pride, idealism. It breaks out when self-control breaks down, often because of group pressures or a slow escalation from seemingly innocuous decisions. Most perpetrators do not enjoy their acts, at least at first, but feel they must be done. "To understand evil,"Baumeister writes, "we must set aside the comfortable belief that we would never do anything wrong. Instead, we must begin to ask ourselves, what would it take for me to do such things?" Although few of these ideas are original to Baumeister, and the book is sometimes pedantic, it is a worthy synthesis both for victims who want to know why and for policymakers who need to know what to do.

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