THE TYRANNY OF MALICE: Exploring the Dark Side of Character and Culture by

THE TYRANNY OF MALICE: Exploring the Dark Side of Character and Culture

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The premise is an intriguing one--an exploration of our less than noble side--but unfortunately the author, a physician, has not succeeded in transforming his voluminous research into a meaningful cohesive theory of why perfectly nice people can often act like monsters. The major problem is that Berke seems unable to get a grip on his material. He rushes blindly along, in one breath creating a distinction between greed and envy (greed is described as ""a graspingness for life,"" envy, as ""a graspingness for self""), in the next artificially combining them into something he calls ""grenvy."" To back up his basic theory (that envy, greed, jealousy, malice rule both individuals and nations), he rehashes the Mozart-Salieri rivalry, Shakespeare's Othello, the plots of Woody Allen films, and quotes advice on how to cope with jealousy by someone named Jilly Cooper, who writes on ""racy topics"" for the London Sunday Times. To make matters more confusing, there are 133 pages of footnotes, which Berke insists add spice to those issues raised in the text and exhorts us to refer to as we read along. This is easier said than done, for Berke's prose is glaringly awkward, e.g., ""envy is the most intense, vicious and dangerous when it is directed by the dead, or those who feel dead, toward the living."" In his introduction, Berke, conveniently forgetting about the works of Freud and practically every writer who has ever lived, stoutly maintains that our destructive side has been explored mainly in the sensational press. It is true that the tabloids do treat the subject in a way that directly engages the reader; until a more coherent interpreter of our human frailities than Berke comes along, then, we'll just have to keep on groping for illumination at the supermarket racks.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster