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Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing Hardcover – 8 Aug 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (8 Aug 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195148681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195148688
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 2.8 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 158,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Clearly and effectively synthesizes a wide range of studies to develop an original and persuasive model of the processes by which people can become evil... an excellent choice for readers just beginning to investigate the phenomenon."--Publishers Weekly

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
While a visiting professor at the Catholic University in Eichstatt, Germany, I took a Saturday train from nearby Munich to the small Austrian town of Mauthausen, an idyllic market community that lies just fourteen miles east of Linz and nuzzles peacefully along the north bank of the Danube. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By anozama on 25 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Genocide, despite universal horror of it, is still a regularly recurrent obscenity. Attributing it to evil is understandable, but how can it really be prevented? Could understanding its origins help?

James Waller, a psychologist from Washington, has made an profound contribution to this quest. He closely analyses the evidence of personality profiles and behaviours of the perpetrators of such atrocities, and makes startling discoveries.

Their personalities are within the normal range. Perhaps some slight skews [towards being overconfident, authoritative, somewhat stressed, not the most socially skilled, easily led], but nothing out of the ordinary.

It seems that extraordinary evil is most often perpetrated by unremarkable men and women. Given the appropriate toxic blend of propoganda, moral rationalisation, cultural beliefs, manipulation,and peer pressure, seemingly any one of us could become a killer.
Our deepseated `ingroup/outgroup' responses, susceptibility to authority, and a capacity for desensitisation and denial, can be mobilised to appalling effect.

The book is a powerful plea for humility. It ends with the hope that from acquiring greater understanding of the causes of genocidal behaviour, might be developed some ways of diminishing its terrifying reach.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book remains a must-read for students of atrocity behaviour twelve years after its publication, but there is a second edition, 2007, which I would recommend instead although I can't find a Kindle version. The Kindle implementation of this 2002 first edition is poor. Mostly it's perfectly legible, but on my Kindle Keyboard and to a lesser extent on my Retina iPad legibility of the figures is poor whatever the degree of enlargement selected. The typeface size suddenly changes a lot almost 2/3 of the way through, and wherever two words are separated by a dash it is impossible to highlight those words separately. Inappropriate hyphenations remain from a different page layout. Considering the price of the Kindle version I expect a better implementation.
The five stars reflect the author's work, not the Kindle implementation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 28 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Excellent for Teaching and Self-Exploration 16 Jun 2005
By M. R. Zink - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Robert Waller has written an exceptional explanation of how every human is tempted and entrapped by situations, people, attitudes and personality traits that leads one to commit evil. It is these small acts of evil that can build, distract and cumulate in the horrors we see on the news and respond "not me!"

I have used Becoming Evil as an additional book in my Social Psychology class for three years and students always walk out talking about it. Other professors are constantly asking me to see this book saying students are talking about in their classes, in sororities/fraternities and other organizations. One student told me that after reading this book suddenly she understood how pledging a sorority should be changed. Another student wrote me from military training and said how he was beginning to understanding how easy it was to create a mindset of destruction and killing without looking back. One mother in my class told me that the book has deeply impacted how she parents her children.

I deeply believe this is an extremely valuable book. Very organized, easy to understand, and rooted in compelling real life examples of extraordinary evil committed by individuals that we begin to realize look, act and who were just like us.

I have had a hard time finding another book to use in my class that has touched students to the depth of Becoming Evil. I hope others find it equally soul touching and reflective.
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Profound book 19 Feb 2004
By Herbert V. Leighton - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This work shows why explorations of the nature of human nature are not just the stuff of ivory towers. It adds an evolutionary psychology element to previous discussions of genocide with good effect. So one gets some of the ideas of Tooby, Cosmides, Sober and Wilson's "Unto others", Pinker, etc. in the picture. It is also well written and engages the reader emotionally. The evolutionary psychology, though, is only one fundamental factor among many. The author's point is to show all of the various factors that influence a potential actor in genocide, and the situational influences dealt with by social psychology loom large.
Nevertheless, there is an interesting lack of self-awareness of the use of a repeated concept. It is very common to refer to someone who commits an evil act as being inhuman. That dehumanizes the perpetrator. But as Mr. Waller so beautifully explains, it is well within ordinary human nature to have the potential to commit acts of extraordinary evil. So it may be evil, but it is not inhuman. Furthermore, the book explains that dehumanizing others is part of the process that can lead to genocide. In trying to characterize these evil acts, the author uses some of the same dehumanizing mental constructs that lead to such evil acts. Ironic, no?
But that is a minor point. It is quite customary to refer to evil acts as being inhuman. The book is excellent, if sobering.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Very interesting/informative, but... 24 Oct 2009
By Kaleb - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it was a requirement for a Political Psychology college course I'm taking this semester. In the last month or so, our class has analyzed and discussed this book thoroughly. Waller provides a four-part conceptual model in order to explain why he believes genocide and mass killing occur. He also writes about specific case examples at the end of each chapter in order to further articulate his feelings. Anyway, Waller seems to believe very strongly in one "ultimate influence" in order to explain our behavior--evolutionary biology/psychology precede and precipitate his other three "proximate influences," which are social construction of cruelty, cultural construction of worldview, and psychological construction of "the other." He contends that we, as humans, are programmed to committ evil as a result of natural selection; that is, our ancestors survived because of their ability to defeat potential enemies within a scarce realm. Academic stuff aside, this book is very easy to read, incredibly interesting, and is a great start for those who would like to delve into this fascinating subject.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended 25 July 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The editorial reviews above and the publisher's description are accurate about the content. I want to add that this book is well worth reading. The author covers a great deal of research on the topic of man's inhumanity to man and presents the various theories and arguments with an elegance and precision that make this comprehensive book easy, and were it not for the subject matter, pleasurable to read. For anyone interested in the challenge of explaining violence in all its 20th century awfulness, this is an excellent place to start.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
It Could Happen to You 12 April 2006
By wahzoh - Published on
Format: Paperback
After buying this book and reading it myself, I loaned it to my brother and then gave it to my local library where I hope it will be read by many others.

Mr. Waller undertakes a difficult topic -- how it is that ordinary, moral, "law-abiding" human beings can change into perpetrators of genocide. The idea that something like this could happen to any one of us is frightening, indeed, but the best way to protect ourselves is to understand the process. Waller explains this clearly and helps us to understand that the Nazis and other genocidal groups were not insane or monstrous - they were normal people who had undergone a transformation which could occur to anyone in the "right" (i.e., "wrong") circumstances.

This book would be an important addition to libraries everywhere, and I also hope that it will be used in colleges, universities and even high schools.
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