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

( 11 )

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 ...
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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."
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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591026655
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Pages: 459
  • Sales rank: 393,139
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    "Evil Genes" indeed

    I keep going back to this book. You know how sometimes you just "know" there's something not quite right with someone? Barbara Oakley has lined up those little tidbits that make us wonder and produced a remarkable book. I look at people a little differently now...especially politicians

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    Good read

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

    Really Quite Fascinating

    This book is a very in depth look at mental illness, specifically personality disorders, mostly as they relate to world leaders. She also throws in some personal history with a description of her sister. I found it fascinating and well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2014

    This was one of my favorite books and references throughout my U

    This was one of my favorite books and references throughout my Undergrad in Psychology. I constantly recommended it and loaned it out. even Clinical psychologist loved it. I thought it ended then. I went back for a masters in business and reopened and re-recommended it. I have loant it to evolutionary biologist and psychologist and government officals and no one was unimpressed with the unique research insight, the sense of humor and  and adept insight into human nature; for victims of the successful sinister as well as those who may struggle in finding their place after a diagnose described.

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  • Posted August 6, 2011

    Very Engrossing - good explanations for bad behavior!

    Hard to put down as you begin to understand why some people's brains are different, resulting in inhumane behaviors. Well written and easy to understand for a layperson. Very enlightening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2008

    AMAZING

    The Best Book

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