Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend

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by Barbara Oakley
     
 
Have you ever met a person who left you wondering, "How could someone be so twisted? So evil?" Prompted by clues in her sister's diary after her mysterious death, author Barbara Oakley takes the reader inside the head of the kinds of malevolent people you know, perhaps all too well, but could never understand.

Starting with psychology as a frame of reference,

Overview

Have you ever met a person who left you wondering, "How could someone be so twisted? So evil?" Prompted by clues in her sister's diary after her mysterious death, author Barbara Oakley takes the reader inside the head of the kinds of malevolent people you know, perhaps all too well, but could never understand.

Starting with psychology as a frame of reference, Oakley uses cutting-edge images of the working brain to provide startling support for the idea that "evil" people act the way they do mainly as the result of a dysfunction. In fact, some deceitful, manipulative, and even sadistic behavior appears to be programmed genetically--suggesting that some people really are born to be bad. But there are unexpected fringe benefits to "evil genes." We may not like them--but we literally can't live without them.

Oakley deftly ties together the big picture implications of revolutionary neuroscientific and genetic discoveries, showing the eerily similar behavioral tics of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic. The dramatic recent scientific findings presented in Evil Genes shed light not only on dictators far afield, but on politics at home, as well as business, religion, and everyday life. In fact, history itself has been shaped by the strange confluence of genes and environment that science is just now beginning to understand.

Oakley links the latest findings of molecular research to a wide array of seemingly unrelated historical and current phenomena, from the harems of the Ottomans and the chummy jokes of "Uncle Joe" Stalin, to the remarkable memory of investor Warren Buffet. Throughout, she never loses sight of the personal cost of evil genes as she unravelsthe mystery surrounding her sister's enigmatic life--and death.

Evil Genes is a tour-de-force of popular science writing that brilliantly melds scientific research with intriguing family history and puts both a human and scientific face to evil.
Foreword by David Sloan Wilson, author of "Evolution for Everyone."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Borne out of a quest to understand her sister Carolyn's lifelong sinister behavior (which, systems engineer Oakley suggests, may have been compounded by childhood polio), the author sets out on an exploration of "evil," or "Machiavellian," individuals. Drawing on the advances in brain imaging that have illuminated the relationship of emotions, genetics and the brain (with accompanying imaging scans), Oakley collects detailed case histories of famed evil geniuses such as Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong, interspersed with a memoir of Carolyn's life. Oakley posits that they all had borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, a claim she supports with evidence from scientists' genetic and neurological research. All the people she considers, Oakley notes, are "charming on the surface" but "capable of deeply malign behavior" (traits similar to those found in some personality disorders), and her analysis attributes these traits to narcissism combined with "cognitive and emotional disturbances" that lead them to believe they are behaving in a genuinely altruistic way. Disturbing, for sure, but with her own personal story informing her study, Oakley offers an accessible account of a group of psychiatric disorders and those affected by them. Illus. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
An unorthodox romp with wrongdoers. Cutting-edge biotechnology allows us to peer more deeply into the brain and human personality, explains Oakley (Engineering/Oakland Univ.; Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler, 1996). People with what she calls a Machiavellian pattern of behavior may have an especially sinister type of psychopathic personality that could be due to their genetic makeup as well as environmental conditioning. The author describes the use of imaging genetics to explain how the size and shape of different parts of the brain correlate to particular variants (alleles) of specific genes. While there is no way to predict whether or not a person with a specific genetic mix will suffer mental illness, it is becoming possible to determine risk factors. She describes new research on how patterns of activation of neurotransmitters in different areas of the brain may correlate with different personality types. Brain-scanning technology makes it possible to study subjects while they undergo different tests. Oakley's suggestion that ruthless dictators such as Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein share special genetic quirks with Princess Diana, Enron's Andy Fastow and the author's sister Carolyn demands a big leap of faith that many readers may not be willing to take. Diana may have been occasionally bad-tempered and impulsive in her behavior, Fastow was certainly a crook and the author's sister Carolyn was one mixed-up kid . . . but were any of them genetically comparable to Hitler?Combines the interesting and the not too probable.
From the Publisher
"A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail."
--Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University, and author of
The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Stuff of Thought

"'Scientific non-fiction' and 'page turner' aren’t two phrases I’d expect in the same sentence, but for the remarkable Evil Genes, they fit."
--William A. Wulf, President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591025801
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
10/28/2007
Pages:
380
Product dimensions:
6.21(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.22(d)

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What People are saying about this

Cliff Pickover
"A magnificent tour through the sociology, psychology, and biology of evil. No one should pass up the experience of stepping through the portals of this fascinating book to answer Oakley's crucial question: Why are there evil people, and why are they sometimes so successful?"--(Dr. Cliff Pickover, author of A Beginner's Guide to Immortality and The Heaven Virus)
Terrence W. Deacon
"Remarkable-and difficult to put down ... a wonderfully readable tapestry of family autobiography, historical biography, and biological psychology. Without oversimplifying their psychosocial complexity, "Evil Genes" explores new research on the genetics and neurobiology of personality disorders. Shining this light on some of the most problematic figures of our era, it challenges our assumptions about the roots of terrorism, genocide, crime, corruption-and even the sinister sides of politics, business, and religion."--(Terrence W Deacon, Professor of Biological Anthropology and Neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Symbolic Species)
Steven Pinker
"A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail."--(Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Stuff of Thought.)
Orson Scott Card
"This story is not only good science writing, it's also achingly personal, as Oakley recounts the story of her selfish sister and relates it to what science is revealing about the way our brains work and how genes influence even our ability to tell right from wrong. It's not often that a book about science can also break your heart - Oakley's achievement is astonishing."--(Orson Scott Card, award-winning author of Ender's Game, Enchantment, and Empire)
Gavin de Becker
Whatever you might believe about the role of genetics versus environment, Evil Genes will take you somewhere you haven't been.ÿ Barbara Oakley brilliantly reveals the falseness of one of the ego's evil little lies: That all our behavior is decided by us. (Gavin de Becker, Bestselling Author, The Gift of Fear)

Meet the Author

Barbara Oakley, PhD has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones-her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from Private to Regular Army Captain in the U.S. Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world's largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering.

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Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Chloe1975 More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after hearing the author interviewed on a pod-cast, Psychjourney, about her book. If you have an extremely difficult relative, spouse, boss, friend, teacher, etc.. you might want to check out this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago