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On Evil [Hardcover]

Terry Eagleton
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 18.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 April 2010
For many enlightened, liberal-minded thinkers today, and for most on the political left, evil is an outmoded concept. It smacks too much of absolute judgements and metaphysical certainties to suit the modern age. In this witty, accessible study, the prominent Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton launches a surprising defence of the reality of evil, drawing on literary, theological and psychoanalytic sources to suggest that evil, no mere medieval artefact, is a real phenomenon with palpable force in our contemporary world. In a book that ranges from St. Augustine to alcoholism, Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Mann, Shakespeare to the Holocaust, Eagleton investigates the frightful plight of those doomed souls who apparently destroy for no reason. In the process, he poses a set of intriguing questions. Is evil really a kind of nothingness? Why should it appear so glamorous and seductive? Why does goodness seem so boring? Is it really possible for human beings to delight in destruction for no reason at all?

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (6 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300151063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300151060
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 585,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Acclaimed literary scholar and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor of English Literature at Notre Dame.

Terry Eagleton is the author of many books including The Idea of Culture (2000), Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (2002), the bestselling text Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983, 1996, 2008), Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (2009), and the forthcoming On Evil (2010).

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'I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.' --Prof. Lance Butler, Network Review (Scientific Medical Network), Winter 2009/2010

About the Author

Terry Eagleton is Professor of English Literature at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Distinguished Professor of Cultural Theory at Lancaster University, and Professor of English Literature at Notre Dame. He is the author of many books, including 'Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate'.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Is there a place for the concept of evil in a post-modern society? Eagleton believes there is, seeing human history as a tragic story requiring a redemption that is sufficiently realistic about what it is up against.

This is a powerful account of a subject that enjoys the contradictory status of being at once ignored and constantly paraded before us as the (apparent) subject of popular drama. The book, like Eagleton's others, is wide ranging and discursive, full of jokes and paradoxes and not always, as a result, clear. But I particularly liked the depiction of evil in its purest form as ascetic and dismissive of 'creatureliness'. The truly evil are not so much base as overly high-minded, dismissive of 'things', of the material world, driven only by an insatiable ego and the fear of the annihilation of the self. They will lay waste to everything rather than risk such a loss, lay down such a will. Although Eagleston does not make much of it I immediately contrasted this with the New Testament message that those who lay down their lives gain them - that a willingness to die is the prerequisite of real living. I felt challenged by the recognition of the extent to which this tyranny of the false self leads me - and maybe all of us - into trouble. I also liked the reclamation of the notion of solidarity. A notion of self-determination lies at the root of evil whereas goodness recognises its dependence and rejoices in limits. It is evil that imagines that there is nothing it cannot do.

He is strong also in debunking the modern idea that evil is glamorous. The vampires and monsters of modern gothic are mostly not so much evil as nasty and where they are not (e.g many film of TV vampires of the moment) it is because they are not really evil at all.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too much of it was talking about other works, ... 10 July 2014
By pedro
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Too much of it was talking about other works, & the writer's views about them, & he did not define hie terms exactly, & there was a Freudian sub-text, which I did not agree with. Some interesting thoughts, however.
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2 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars dissapointing 9 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very disappointing by Eagleton's usually high standards. Some interesting ideas among as much unfocused rambling and concluding with an embarrassingly pedestrian conclusion.
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On Evil 21 April 2012
By genieh
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Generally fine but pages towards the end of the book had ink smudges. This did nor prevent reading it but not very good looking. Arrived promptly.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminently Readable 15 Jun 2010
By Olga Bezhanova - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In his book On Evil, Terry Eagleton offers his readers an eminently readable treatise that combines literary criticism and philosophy in a way that does justice to his complex and charged subject. In my view, Eagleton does what every scholar of literature should attempt to do: make his analysis accessible to a wide reading audience without sacrificing the intellectual rigor of his work. As usual, the book is written beautifully, and Eagleton's sense of humor is highly enjoyable. This is the kind of literary criticism that is accessible to any reasonably educated person, not just to academics.

Eagleton begins On Evil by discussing how the concept of evil has been appropriated by a certain type of political discourse. The implication behind referring to terrorists as "evildoers" and their actions as "pure evil" is that if we accept that there is a rational explanation for acts of terror, we somehow condone them. This, of course, is completely wrong since "rational" and "commendable" are not the same thing. The tendency to refer to terrorists as evil only serves the purpose of shutting down any kind of discussion of their actions. As a result, we are left with no understanding of what they do and what. Consequently, we cannot possibly hope to combat terror since we have precluded any opportunity to analyze terrorism in any meaningful way.

Even though Eagleton ridicules the way certain politicians have appropriated the word "evil," he believes that evil actions and evil individuals do exist. In this, he disagrees not only with a certain brand of liberals but with many Marxists as well. (We have to remember that Eagleton himself is an unapologetic Marxist, which does not preclude him from pointing out the many subjects where he disagrees with his fellow Marxists. It is precisely this kind of intellectual honesty that makes me respect him so much). In Eagleton's view, the nature of evil is metaphysical, in the sense that it aims to destroy being as such, not just certain parts of it. It is the metaphysical nature of evil that Eagleton tries to analyze (and in my view, succeeds in doing so) in On Evil. The most intolerable thing for evil is that anything should exist. Its most important goal is the annihilation of being as such.

In his Living in the End Times, Slavoj Zizek says that the question we need to ask ourselves is not "Is there life after death?" What we should ask instead is, rather, "Is there life before death?" Eagleton echoes this statement in On Evil. He mentions "the worthless purity of those who have never lived", which can lead people to desire to bring destruction to those who have the capacity to enjoy the richness of human existence. It is among those who have never actually allowed themselves to live, to enjoy, to love life that evil has its perfect breeding ground.

Eagleton draws our attention to the paradoxical side of evil that was observed by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics). Truly evil acts are often perpetrated by "mild-mannered individuals who believe that business is business." Instead of being terrified by this phenomenon, we should see that it offers us hope. Most evil, says Eagleton, is institutional. If we change the entire structure of our society, the kind of evil that plagues our existence today will disappear.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Lightweight Fluff 19 July 2013
By Labute - Published on Amazon.com
I gave up half way through. At a certain point I realized I was just spending time in the mind of a really interesting and intelligent man who likes to read. He makes some compelling points but it takes too much work getting to them. Too many assumptions, far reaching pseudo connections and not enough hardcore substantiation. Too many examples from literature rather than real life. I guess I was expecting something heavier, harder hitting. If I'm going to read for pleasure I'll pick up some fiction.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughful 16 Dec 2013
By Kathleen Lopes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Outstanding philosopher. The book defines evil in depth. A great gift for introspective friends (or folks who think they are without flaws!)
3.0 out of 5 stars A book full of quotables 9 July 2013
By Brian Massey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book does a good job of supporting a view of evil, but what that view is remains somewhat unclear. Nonetheless, for readers who like to draw their own conclusions, Eagleton provides some intriguing analysis of literature and philosophy with regard to evil or immorality.
4.0 out of 5 stars Eagleton at his best 7 July 2013
By J. Laurence - Published on Amazon.com
This is an excellent work by the world's favorite heterodox Marxist. Eagleton combines theology, philosophy, and psychology to make incisive comments on the nature of evil. Not only does Eagleton synthesize ideas from the likes of Augustine and Freud, but he also draws on a wide range of literary and historical examples, from Shakespeare to the Holocaust. Eagleton's fundamental claim is that evil is banal, not sexy, that it is less, not more interesting than virtue. Many of these insights were presented in an embryonic form in Eagleton's earlier work After Theory, but they are far better developed here.
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