Customer Reviews


38 Reviews
5 star:
 (20)
4 star:
 (7)
3 star:
 (4)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (4)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lurid neuroscience for beginners...
A challenging and original book, it is sometimes difficult to avoid criticising the logic, but there is no doubting the potency of the question. Understanding how people can be capable of suspending their feelings for others in order to commit acts of horror on them is the coalescing idea, and Baron-Cohen does much to identify the workaday nature of psychopathy that...
Published on 21 Sep 2011 by Dr. G. SPORTON

versus
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing and thinly evidenced
I very much wanted to like this book, particularly as it addresses such a central question of human existence - how, can we as a species, inflict such unspeakable cruelty apon each other? Unfortunately I found it unconvincing and its arguments thin. It almost entirely lacks an historical or structural perspective, and it relies heavily on the pseudo science of the DSM 4...
Published 20 months ago by SD


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lurid neuroscience for beginners..., 21 Sep 2011
By 
Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A challenging and original book, it is sometimes difficult to avoid criticising the logic, but there is no doubting the potency of the question. Understanding how people can be capable of suspending their feelings for others in order to commit acts of horror on them is the coalescing idea, and Baron-Cohen does much to identify the workaday nature of psychopathy that occasionally flares up into full scale violence. He counterposes this with the notion that the 'internal pot of gold' deposited by stable and responsible parenting as the best defence against the dark side of human nature. If I have a dissatisfaction with the argument, it is the tendency to look for pathology ahead of temporality. It seems clear from his examples that people in certain circumstances suspend their empathy in order to carry out an atrocity to which their conscience otherwise would object (see Their Darkest Hour: People Tested to the Extreme in WWII for some more horrific examplars). That, and in some of the situations he cites(the unspeakableness of the child soldier attack, for instance), it might well be the fullest volume of empathy that fires the imagination to such ghastliness, rather than the detachment of fellow feeling that Baron-Cohen appears to blame. They knew what would hurt, and hurt the worst.

Regardless, an excellent book on neuropsychology for the non-scientist, and a handy guide at the back for identifying those workplace psychopaths that haunt one's daily life.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars chockful of interest - highly recommended, 19 April 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This short book - less than 130 pages of text (not counting footnotes) - proposes that evil is really the absence of empathy (well, not quite, there is also a "positive" version of the absence of empathy), and argues the case through philosophy (empathy it's possible to study empirically, evil it's not), brain science (there's a complex network of 10 areas involved in empathy and its absence), psychiatry and developmental pscyhology (some "negative" forms of zero empathy, eg borderline personality, relate to shortcomings in nurture) and the perspective of evolution (we have a bell-curve distribution of emphathy and of the capacity to systematise, so maybe being in the middle of the curves is best for survival?)

Baron-Cohen draws extensively on the work of others as well as his own research into the autistic spectrum and empathy, but brings it all together into a new paradigm. I imagine most readers of the book will be thoroughly engrossed by this enterprise whether or not they find it persuasive.

While it's good that the book is short and covers so many fiels of enquiry, it inevitably leaves many quesitons unasked and unanswered. Looking at these from a few perspectives: (a) philosophical - Baron-Cohen gives a really interesting perspective on the thesis that morality has to do with rationality (the systematising trait) and that it has to do with the emotions (the empathising trait): are we dealing with one thing here or two? And is the absence of morality ("evil, or zero empathy") the absence of one thing or two?; (b) psychiatry/developmental psychology - it's interesting that brain science shows that empathy circuits are not working right in borderline personality, psychopathy and narcissism. What about eg schizophrenia? Are brain-circuits just warped in some of these cases, rather than absent as with Asperger's and autism? (c) brain science - if this is what justifies putting together the "false developmental paths" that are narcissism and borderline personality with Asperger's, why not go with brain science when it tells us the empathy circuits of Buddhist monks work overtime? (Baron-Cohen says, "yes, but they're not empathetic in the usual sense of the term").

All that said: this is a really interesting book; and highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Each drop of empathy waters the flower of peace, 7 May 2011
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Whatever Jesus may or may not have said about the importance of loving one another, Christians have nevertheless often resorted to violence down the ages. Martin Luther, for example, although a follower of a man who was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew, wrote a pamphlet entitled "Against the Jews" in which he called on his fellow Christians to burn synagogues and destroy Jewish homes. Four hundred years later, the young Adolf Hitler quoted Luther "to give his own Nazi racist views some respectability". The two Nazi scientists, pictured performing a cold water immersion experiment on an inmate of Dachau Concentration Camp, share at least one character trait with Luther: an absence of empathy. All three were educated and intelligent individuals who were nonetheless capable of disregarding the thoughts and feelings of other human beings, of treating them as objects, with tragic consequences. How could they do this?

This one image, the first illustration in this engaging and important book, stands for the millions of instances of human cruelty that occurred in that war alone, to say nothing of what can be found in any newspaper on any day of the week. Simon Baron-Cohen's main goal is to understand human cruelty and to replace the unscientific term "evil" with the scientific term "empathy". He wants to move "the debate out of the realm of religion and into the realm of science", not because he is anti-religion (indeed, he regards Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a candidate for someone with super-empathy) but because "religion has been singularly anti-enquiry on the topic of the causes of evil".

Baron-Cohen is not satisfied with the circularity of the concept of "evil", with tabloid explanations that would have us believe that the reason so-and-so did such-and-such an evil thing is because, well, so-and-so is evil. Instead, he makes a compelling case for the explanatory power of empathy, how it's distributed in the population, how any individual can experience ups and downs of empathy, how neurological damage can reduce or even eliminate empathy altogether, and how empathy can be acquired or encouraged, either through practice as an adult or, perhaps most importantly, by means of good parenting endowing each child with his or her very own "internal pot of gold".

Don't be misled into thinking that this short book must be short on ideas. As with any work of popular science, we see only a fraction of the research that has gone before (much of which is cited in the notes and references). The "ten new ideas" summarized in chapter six give a feel for the scope of empathy as an explanatory tool. These concepts include the "empathy spectrum" and the idea that people at one end of this range have "zero degrees of empathy". Also important to this scientific account, but which may be hard to swallow for anyone used to thinking of evil in metaphysical terms, as some kind of stain on a non-physical soul, is the idea of an "empathy circuit" in the brain. The ventral part of the medial prefrontal cortex doesn't (I imagine) get taught much in Sunday school, and yet its role in thinking about other people's thoughts and feelings marks it out as a crucial region in the brain. The remarkable case of Phineas Gage shows what can happen when the vMPFC is damaged. Gage survived, but he was not the same: his empathy circuit went down.

"Treating other people as if they were just objects is one of the worst things you can do to another human being, to ignore their subjectivity, their thoughts and feelings." This is exactly how those Nazi scientists treated the subjects of their experiments (an ironic term, since the prisoners were reduced to mere objects), and it might strike some as strange for science - with its emphasis on objectivity - to have anything at all to say about human feeling. When Baron-Cohen begins listing brain regions and "genes for empathy" (with the usual caveat that genes only ever directly produce proteins), these same sceptics may well feel vindicated.

As with all good science, however, the arguments are well supported with evidence and reasons. More broadly, I think this kind of work is an example of the science of human flourishing in action. In The Moral Landscape Sam Harris develops a powerful case for the importance of science in discriminating between moral values, widely thought to lie outside its scope. However, once we're dealing with facts about human well-being - including, say, facts about levels of empathy - then science not religion is the tool we need.

For example, people with zero degrees of empathy divide into Zero-Positive and Zero-Negative. Both types have no awareness of how they come across to others and think only about their own interests. The important difference is that Zero-Positives (e.g. people with Asperger Syndrome), although they are insensitive to others, do not generally commit acts of cruelty, unlike Zero-Negatives (e.g. psychopaths). Such knowledge is vital in sentencing policy. Clearly, while incarcerating some Zero-Negatives who have committed a crime is justified, in a civilized, compassionate society we should be helping Zero-Positives "to find friendship, companionship and other forms of comfort, without jeopardizing anyone's safety".

Simon Baron-Cohen makes a bold claim in this brilliant book, that empathy is one of the most valuable resources in the world. I'm persuaded by the arguments, and impressed by the humane motives driving the science. Those whose stories he tells are still people, however damaged they may be, and deserving of the best understanding we can manage. His belief that this is scientific will be controversial to some, but that's nothing new. For me, given that empathy is all about switching from a single- to a double- (or triple-?) minded focus of attention, I wonder if one reason why I enjoy the theatre so much is that it is such a good workout for my empathy circuit. Certainly, anything that helps put you in someone else's shoes is good for world peace!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing and thinly evidenced, 10 Jan 2013
I very much wanted to like this book, particularly as it addresses such a central question of human existence - how, can we as a species, inflict such unspeakable cruelty apon each other? Unfortunately I found it unconvincing and its arguments thin. It almost entirely lacks an historical or structural perspective, and it relies heavily on the pseudo science of the DSM 4. It also makes some startling generalisations. I worked in the field of addiction for many years, and I dont recognise my patient group from the fifty percent of 'those attending clinics for alcoholism' he identifies as having Borderline Personality Disorder. Perhaps the author would benefit from spending some time with people in recovery, and those who have experienced trauma and through hard work and determination have experienced the phenomenon of post traumatic growth, rather than having been defined by early or later trauma and dependence. I applaud his attempt to try and deal with a difficult subject, and to use functional and objective (ish) methods such as MRI, but to then relate those findings back to poorly designed labels that are essentially clusters of symptoms and no more does not take us any further forward. And to say evil is the equivalent of empathy erosion is just a semantic evasion. Is evil just the pathology of the individual? If so, how do we make sense of some of the incidents he mentions, of the widespread brutality and instrumental violence used by states and armies to subdue whole populations? Can we really explain the Holocaust or the Killing Fields as an amalgamation of empathy erosion? No.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking eye-opener, 17 Dec 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Zero Degrees of Empathy: A new theory of human cruelty (Kindle Edition)
This is a fascinating book. Recommended to me by a friend who is a child psychologist I wondered whether it might be a bit too specialist for me but it is written really clearly and is accessible by the interested amateur. I have hardly stopped thinking about 'zero degrees empathy' as an explanation for some people's ability to treat other people as objects and it is amazing how often it has been a useful reference point when reading other books or even watching the news. It has had quite a profound effect on my behaviour and in my dealings with my family and friends as well as my colleagues. It certainly makes me think about the way I treat other humans.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and easy to read, 3 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is easy to understand about a complex subject and is revealing about personality and behaviour. It is a fascinating read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read., 21 July 2012
By 
L. Wolfe "X" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
This guy knows his stuff! Zero Degrees of Empathy is definitely a must-read.
Baron-Cohen delves deep into the reasons behind, and consequences of, people with so-called 'evil' minds, without classing them as such. Instead, he very maturely discusses how we are all somewhere on the empathy spectrum, and explains that some of us are unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) placed on an extreme end of this spectrum. He gently explains the theory of empathy erosion, and how, despite the state commonly being thought of as 'cruel' and unable to do any good, they can actually often do a whole lot of good.

I'd recommend this book to anyone, as no matter where your thoughts are on 'good' and 'evil', this will certainly get you thinking differently, and you'll definitely learn something new.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 14 July 2012
I like that this book properly addresses empathy, as opposed to painting those with 'zero degrees of empathy' as mindless, violent criminally-inclined monsters.

It's short, easy to read and interesting.

A lot of books and articles about psychopathy seem to focus on 'conscience'. This irritates me, primarily because it is such a vague term. Baron-Cohen identifies empathy as a key aspect of a number of psychological conditions, including psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, asperger's syndrome and autism. Up until now, I didn't properly understand the concept of 'having a conscience'. Now I do - it's all about empathy. A very interesting and informative read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Research Professor in Psychiatric Social Work, 7 Dec 2011
Whislt I know of the work of the author, I do not know him, nor never met him but his Zero Degress of Empathy is one of those RARE books that changes one's professional understanding, research and practice.
In a concise way Baron-Cohen brings together modern neuro-sciences, social and psychological research to provide PRACTICAL understanding of perhaps the most diffuclt of all human dilemmas- thinking of baby Peter Connally, how to understand "how could anybody be persisitently cruel to a child like this"?
The practical, theoretical and ethical implications are profound and is highly relevant to all who work with other human beings, be it in psychiatry, social work, child protection, medicine or teaching etc.
If my students were to read only one book in a year or a decade , this would be it.
Colin Pritchard
Research Professor in Psychiatric Social Work
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A conceptual breakthrough in the theory of empathy, 27 Jun 2011
By 
Ermanno Arreghini "Ermanno Arreghini" (Trento, Italy) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Just a few words to recommend this text to a wide public of readers, from the amateur readers of neuropsychology and laymen to the professionals.
As a forensic psychiatrist I found the book (and its immense bibliography) full of suggestions of practical use. A clarifying tool in the hands of different qualified professional even outside the medical field. Worth reading and using.
Ermanno Arreghini
Trento-Italy
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews