An academic plumbs the compelling science of nefarious behavior.
In this culmination of 13 years of work as “a student, lecturer and researcher,” Shaw (Criminology and Psychology/Univ. Coll. London; The Memory Illusion: Why You Might Not Be Who You Think You Are, 2016) offers an accessible approach to the concept of evil, encouraging readers to “rethink and reshape what it means to be bad.” Avoiding the pitfalls of being overly encyclopedic, the author focuses her expertise on using science and rational thought to try to explain why we do terrible things to each other. However, she writes, “heinous crimes are generally seen as more of a circus show than something we should try to understand.” Following her astute psychological profiles of Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer and their hideously corrupt moral decision-making, the author turns her attention to the concept of killing. She writes, “while on the one hand we condemn murder, many of us also fantasize about it.” Curious readers will be riveted by Shaw’s deliberate, rational discussions of such taboos as cyberbullying, homicide, pedophilia, and the ways money and power corrupt the souls of formerly good men and women. A monumental task for the less tolerant, she implores us not to “dehumanize those who dehumanize others.” However, in situations such as that of the price-gouging pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, generating sympathy can be next to impossible. Readers acutely attuned to their own sexual self-expression may be especially intrigued by the chapter on an erotic smorgasbord of “wildly aberrant” taboo paraphilia. Shaw’s intellectual scrutiny is bolstered by statistical data, experiments, and academic research studies from neuroscientists, who underscore the true scientific nature of wrongdoing and wickedness through the human experience. Capably written with a smooth mix of scientific insight and theoretical thought, the book will hopefully inspire empathy and understanding rather than hysteria and condemnation.
A consistently fascinating journey into the darker sides of the human condition that will push on the boundaries of readers’ comfort zones.