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VINE VOICEon 30 November 2003
In People of the Lie Peck looks at the phenomenon of evil he has experienced with patients in psychotherapy; some of the cases where people have overcome, with the help of conventional therapy, the evil within them - most have not.
The book goes on to look at different types of evil, the definition of evil, a fascinating discussion of the author's experiences with two exorcisms, and the nature of Satan. Finally Peck looks at group evil, such as experienced during the holocaust and in Vietnam.
Interspersed with each case are the author's more general thoughts on the nature of (as he sees it) the disease of evil, and how psychiatry could be extended to be a more complete science by covering areas previously considered the realm of religion.
Although People of the Lie is a fairly academic book, it's written in a readable manner and I found it mostly very approachable as a reader with no formal background in psychiatry.
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on 1 April 2001
If you've the perseverence and objectivity to penetrate Peck's occasionally rather annoying 'evangelism', you'll be rewarded with a fascinating insight into the behaviour of 'evil' people and their impact on others.
The People of The Lie is without doubt an important attempt to understand and describe 'scientifically' a very common though as yet, not formally classified personality/character disorder. However, Peck's emphasis on the 'supernatural' dimension, particularly his observations on the value of exorcism is inappropriate. It obscures some extremely worthwhile evidence in support of his contention, that there is scope to define formally a 'new' disorder to help psychiatrists and psychologists manage both 'evil' people and their victims. I suspect this book is not universally popular among these professionals.
Nevertheless, its worth the effort. Whether you're a believer, agnostic or athiest, The People of the Lie offers much food for thought. So far as I know, people who are just plain bad are not well catered for by formal psychology theory; bad people really do exist, they're not simply damaged people who do bad things so perhaps Peck's book is a worthwhile attempt to expose such people for the benefit, principally of their victims.
I was a victim and as such the book has helped me greatly. As a pychologist, I would have preferred a less 'emotional' and more accessible approach to what is a seriously under-researched phenomenon.
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on 9 February 2002
Peck makes an apposite description of truly evil people, how deceitful and self-centred they are, although they often pretend to be upstanding citizens. What makes Peck's view of evil stand out is that he takes the problem of evil fully seriously. Evil is not merely a misunderstanding or some kind of deficiency in an otherwise good human society. No, evil is a constant and strong force inside the soul of the "people of the lie." Peck wants to depict evil as a very serious illness of the soul that cannot be spotted from outside. I am sceptical of diagnosing evil as a disease, but Peck's book deserves the highest mark because of his heartfelt explication and his telling case histories. I feel, from my own life-experience, that Peck's depiction of evil peoples' characteristics is very apt.
Mats W
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on 27 November 2005
We desperately need a psychology of evil. This book is a valuable begginning.
I agree with the late Dr. Peck's definition of evil as the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of another. This use of power is an aspect of narcissism, which is synonymous with megalomania.
Evil is clearly widespread in our world. Our political leaders evidently feel that it is acceptable to start wars and our psychiatrists routinely force thier patients to take drugs with unnaceptable side-effects. Peck's pioneering work will hopefully be followed by others who can give us a psychology of war and other manifestations of the desire for power over others.
For those of us who believe in God, evil is the greatest obstcle to seeing Him as all-powerful and good. Personally I am not satisfied with the free-will explanation of evil. It may be that God is not as powerful as some would like to believe, but my own observations suggest that evil comes directly from the Source.
However I do feel, with Peck, that evil can be healed and that war and violence have no place in the future of humanity. I agree that children should be taught about evil in schools. I also think that they should be taught about narcissism, which is basically a fear-based seeking of power over others.
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on 20 December 1999
I have read this book at least 4 times and I often think of the issues it raises. Principlaly it asks what exactly is evil? There are many encounters described by the author: of meetings with evil individuals. they are characterised by the constant stream of, often inconsequential, lies.
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on 29 June 2011
I am recovering from years of bruising encounters with a family member I suspect to be personality disordered and was given this book by a well-meaning acquaintance. There was some helpful material here. In particular I found the first part of it to be a validating account of what it can be like to be on the receiving end of this kind of disordered interaction (in short: confusing). The author's observations about the disordered person's need to maintain the appearance of perfection rang especially true to my experience.

However, I was not persuaded by the suggestion that the psychiatric diagnosis of personality disorder, especially Narcissistic PD, should include the concept of evil. There are many problems with this, not least the extreme subjectivity of the notion (although Dr Peck implies that all right-thinking people are certain to recognise evil when they behold it, which is a slightly cheap way of selling his claims).

I was even less persuaded by the argument that evil is an illness like cervical cancer or hypertension. Dr Peck over-stretches that metaphor until it is wafer-thin. And then he asserts that evil people are different from people who merely do bad things; in his view true evil is awarded the fundamental status of a personality trait. As made in this book, the contention that evil is both a part of the self and an acquired illness seems sloppy and unconvincing.

Despite frequently stressing the importance of treating 'the people of the lie' with compassion and understanding, there is more than a whiff of 'them and us' in some of the case studies presented here. I found the account of Charlene's therapy distressing, as was the author's readiness to attribute the lack of any positive outcome to his patient's inherent evilness.

This is where I began to be seriously alienated, a process which was completed by the vague and histrionic description of the author's participation in two exorcisms. I didn't feel inclined to read beyond that point. My mental health has been seriously threatened by my relationship with a personality disordered individual, but I still don't see how the 'hope for healing' referred to in the title could ever emerge from viewing personality disorder in terms of evil. Is this not the type of preconception which has made psychiatry such a devastating force for abuse and oppression?

I remain glad that the professionals currently revising the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders show no signs of having consulted this book first.
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on 4 August 2004
This book was a saver. Truely. There are the confussed, self-absorbed and disturbed, then there is what Scott Peck very bravely puts into words. Prior to reading his book evil is a word which I would be very wary of useing; something which belonged in times gone by or by manner of not quite understanding. A term used to tie up the loose ends when we cant be bothered to understand. This book offered an explanation, some definiton and validation when the world around me were looking to say "your crazy". "Narcissim" on its own is not satisfactory enough should you be unfortunate to be caught on the recieving end. What I think he tries to define is a leathal concoction which if given the right conditions can kill, if not the body certainly the will to live. The subtltes of which seep in and overcome. A test from hell, and the dialouge is not unsimilar to that of a famous horror movie.
If you think you have had a "sinister" experiance, particulary in a personal relationship this book may help. It goes some way to explain the unexplainable. If you find your life being "drained away" and dont understand why, nothing tangible, and the world is falling apart without "evidence", then this book may offer some clarification. It may be an addict?
Where a chapter or two might be amiss is in what to do, how to protect yourself. It is clear but general. Also, it is a concoction, and this book says little of what the recipiants part may be, perhaps the therapy room setting of some of the case studies takes a (luckier) stand-off position.
The book is apptly called "People of the Lie". It is the Lie that kills. Fear and lack of Love are the ingredients. Dont think you can fix it on your own.
This book was my experiance. I wish I had read it sooner. And would suggest you do too save complacancy gets in and you get caught out. It explains the unexplainable. Its no joke. A very good read.
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The author writes from a mainstream Christian perspective, which is certainly legitimate. He describes certain case studies where the patients suffered from extreme narcissism. I am not convinced that all the cases represent the narcissistic form of evil that Peck tries to define; some may instead be exhibiting psychopathy or types of schizophrenia. In one case, for example, the pathology exhibited itself as victimless if one exempts the patient herself from victim status.
Peck sets forth a case for a scientific study of evil and writes engagingly about mental illness and the naming of evil. He also investigates the phenomena of possession and exorcism. It becomes quite interesting when he looks at the fiction of J R R Tolkien and the work of Erich Fromm and Martin Buber and when he discusses the three major theological models of evil, i.e. the nondualism of certain Eastern faiths, the integrated dualism espoused by Buber and the traditional Christian one of diabolic dualism as he terms it.
Where the author goes wrong in a big way, is in his study of the My Lai atrocity or rather the conclusions he draws from it: his suggestion for a military draft (involuntary service) and his criticism of specialisation. Here he reveals some utopian notions that I find very questionable. A compulsory draft goes against the principles of individual freedom and besides, utopian schemes invariably turns out evil. The good doctor should know that by now. The coercion involved in society laying that sort of claim on the individual is a totalitarian concept that is by definition evil.
Another misconception that I noticed is that Dr Peck still thinks that psychotherapy is a universally good idea, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary. In addition, he claims that most psychologists are kind, gentle people. That has not been the case in my personal experience or in the literature. It would not surprise me if narcissism were as prevalent amongst psychotherapists as it is in the general population.
In this way Dr Peck acts as an apologist for psychotherapy as he also did with his mega selling book The Road Less Travelled. No doubt this therapy has helped some people but it is not the panacea Dr Peck would like to make it. With all of the above provisos, I still recommend this book. People Of The Lie contains enough that is thought provoking and does provide some original insights while asking some provocative questions.
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on 17 February 2015
I was both intrigued and unsettled by this book. The author is a psychiatrist with what sounds like an evangelical Christian agenda, which inclines him to think in black-and-white terms (when it comes to other people, that is; the revelation of his long-standing extra-marital affair shows that, like a lot of his ilk, he has feet of clay). I think that he is right to say that there are people whose mental disturbance amounts to being more than "ill"; but then, I think most mental disorders can be seen this way. There certainly are people who lack remorse, responsibility or regard for others, and we need to understand and contain these tendencies - in ourselves as well - if society is to function at all. I'm not convinced, however, by Peck's observations and conclusions. He comes across as self-aggrandizing and superstitious, very subjective, and blind to his own limitations. Calling people who behave unpleasantly and destructively 'evil' simply begs the question: there is no real examination of causes or treatment (apart from, ahem. . .exorcism!), much less the semantic questions that really should be addressed in a topic like this. Reading this book gives me a sense of the 'what' of evil, but not the 'why'; and I'm not sure M. Scott Peck is a very reliable guide in this particular forest.
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on 27 May 2003
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An entirely different book, from the author of the inspirational bestseller The Road Less Travelled series. This one does not seek to warm the cockles of the heart--on the contrary, it seeks to present a phenomenon which, the more convincing the argument gets, the more DISTURBING the REALISATION one is faced with.
The first thing that most readers find unconventional, if not initially incomprehensible, and/thus often protest against, is the use of the term "evil" in a NON-RELIGIOUS sense. But Dr Peck proceeds to explain what led him to the choice of term--not by picking it out AT FIRST CHANCE nor to illustrate the INTENSITY of his feelings about it (far from it!), but rather by examining all the ALTERNATIVES but finding each of them WANTING. Thus by the process of ELIMINATION, one is left no choice but to describe the phenomenon as "evil" (akin to Sherlock Holmes's methods). And just as the term is strong, care is taken to apply it only to the extreme examples where MILDER or ALTERNATIVE terms DO NOT SUFFICE.
Read especially the stories about the parents whose elder of two sons shot himself to death, leaving the younger son facing the consequences, not just of the big brother's death, but worse, of the parents' subsequent behaviour. Behaviour that evidently exceeds, thus CANNOT BE EXPLAINED AWAY by "simple stupidity", "parental incompetence", or "personality quirks". Read also about the masterful-manipulator patient.
[NEGATIVE] A less convincing case is made about co-dependency. This book's weak point, and the closest it gets to OVERSTRETCH.
What leaves one disturbed is the realisation that comes when one looks back at the REAL people one has actually come across in the past, or continue to deal with in the present . . . one finds that like the above parents, the persistence and absolute lack of remorse can only be described using the term. This is when Dr Peck's thesis starts to make an indelible impact. And it is at this point that the REALISATION for the reader is HORRIFYING.
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