Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side

Abrams. Feb. 2019. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9781419729492. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781683352082. PSYCH
Shaw (criminology & psychology, Univ. Coll. London; The Memory Illusion) presents a spirited challenge to the traditional meaning of "evil." Contrasting scientific research findings with belief systems described as outmoded, chapters cover an array of bad behavior, including murder, sexual deviance, and paedohebephiles, as well as social phenomena such as Nazism, terrorism, and destructive forms of groupthink. A unique outlook on "creepiness" is also provided. The author argues that human behavior is nuanced and wide ranging, even in the case of such transgressions. But rather than applying moral judgments to such conduct, society's focus should shift to the promotion of prosocial values and individual heroism. Rejecting the label of moral relativism, she accepts the reality of harmful behavior (e.g., rape, genocide) and argues that science can aid in mitigating its effects. The volume concludes with extensive notes, and, as a whole, could complement classics on deviance such as Kai T. Erickson's Wayward Puritans. Though the tone is informal and direct, there's a steady litany of research findings that may potentially overwhelm general readers.
VERDICT A stimulating and provocative study that may be suitable for cutting-edge book discussion groups and ardent students of deviant behavior.

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