"What makes someone evil? What's the brain got to do with it? Baron-Cohen confronts the most urgent and controversial questions in social neuroscience. Both disturbing and compassionate this brilliant book establishes a new science of evil, explaining both its brain basis and development. Baron-Cohen fundamentally transforms how we understand cruelty in others and in so doing forces us to examine ourselves. Reading this book invites us to widen our own circle of empathycompelling us to grow and comprehend, if not forgive."Andrew N. Meltzoff, co-director of University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and co-author of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind
"A simple but persuasive hypothesis for a new way to think about evil."New York Times
"Ground-breaking and important.... This humane and immensely sympathetic book calls us to the task of reinterpreting aberrant human behaviour so that we might find ways of changing it for the better.... The effect...is not to diminish the concept of human evil, but to demystify it."Richard Holloway, Literary Review
"The Science of Evil contains a huge amount of useful information for a rather short read...it's an important early step in building a more robust understanding of our species at its most horrific."Boston Globe
"Rigorously researched.... [Baron-Cohen's] discussion of how parents can instill lifelong empathy in their children is particularly useful."Psychology Today
"Attractively humane...fascinating information about the relation between degrees of empathy and the state of our brains."Terry Eagleton, Financial Times
"Short, clear, and highly readable. Baron-Cohen guides you through his complex material as if you were a student attending a course of lectures. He's an excellent teacher; there's no excuse for not understanding anything he says."The Spectator
"Baron-Cohen's professorial background shines through in the book's tone and in step-by-step, engaging prose urging both academic and lay reader alike to journey with him in scientific inquiry."Publishers Weekly, starred review
This book is based on the enlightened idea that psychological rather than diabolical forces are responsible for evil in the world. Specifically, lack of empathy causes a wide variety of serious pathological states from psychopathy, extreme narcissism, and borderline personality disorder to debilitating though potentially positive disorders like classic autism and Asperger's syndrome. Baron-Cohen (experimental psychology & psychiatry, Univ. of Cambridge;Mindreading: The Interactive Guide to Emotions) describes an empathy measure and traces its association with an "empathy circuit" in the brain and empathy genes. His prior works and numerous journal articles reflect his commitment to this topic for over 30 years. While social and environmental factors are discussed, the focus is on a brain-based theory of behavior. Baron-Cohen concludes with a summary of his ten new ideas, treatment for empathy deficits, a discussion of "superempathy" (e.g., Desmond Tutu), and a proposal to acknowledge empathy-based disorders in the standard psychiatric lexicon. VERDICT Clearly written and succinct, this book will enrich but not overwhelm interested readers, although some may bristle at using the same explanatory construct for autism and psychopathy. It provides a useful perspective for understanding human pathology, including events like Columbine and the Holocaust.—Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN
Fresh, compelling analysis of the human capacity for cruelty, and how redefining evil in terms of empathy can reveal new psychological insights.
Baron-Cohen (Developmental Psychopathology/Univ. of Cambridge; The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain, 2003, etc.) has spent 30 years researching autism and its neurological relationship with empathy,defined asthe ability to identify another's thoughts or feelings and respond appropriately. Historical examples of evil, such as Nazi torture, can be examined in light of this "empathy quotient," andthe author argues that everyone lies somewhere on the "empathy spectrum." Baron-Cohenexplores the complex interplay between social and genetic factors that results in an individual having a high or low level of empathy.Low or zero levels can result in cruel or hurtful behavior, though not always; a variety of factors, including early-childhood parenting, affect individual behavior. The author suggests that modern psychiatry, which identifies "personality disorders" as borderline, narcissistic or psychopathic, can reconceptualize these categorizations by instead classifying them as examples of zero degrees of empathy. Doing so would encourage new social and scientific approaches to diagnosis and treatment options, and may have long-term effects on how societies treat affected individuals. Baron-Cohen raises and effectively parses tricky ethical and biological questions (Should a person with zeroempathyserve prison time for acrime he doesn't understand was wrong? Is there an "empathy gene"?), backing up his arguments with scientific research. He also makes a point to declare his book an attempt to "restimulate discussion on the causes of evil by moving the debate out of the realm of religion and into the realm of science." Biological and psychological factors, not religious belief, he argues, determine cruel behavior. Only by examining the roots of those factors can we begin to understand empathy, which he calls "the most valuable resource in our world."
Baron-Cohen's theory isexhilarating in its implications.