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The Anatomy of Evil [Hardcover]

Michael H. Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 28 2009
The crimes of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Dennis Rader, and other high-profile killers are so breathtakingly awful that most people would not hesitate to label them "evil." In this groundbreaking book, renowned psychiatrist Michael H. Stone—host of Discovery Channel’s former series Most Evil—uses this common emotional reaction to horrifying acts as his starting point to explore the concept and reality of evil from a new perspective. In an in-depth discussion of the personality traits and behavior that constitute evil across a wide spectrum, Dr. Stone takes a clarifying scientific approach to a topic that for centuries has been inadequately explained by religious doctrines.

Basing his analysis on the detailed biographies of more than 600 violent criminals, Stone has created a 22-level hierarchy of evil behavior, which loosely reflects the structure of Dante’s Inferno. He traces two salient personality traits that run the gamut from those who commit crimes of passion to perpetrators of the worst crimes—sadistic torture and murder. One trait is narcissism, as exhibited in people who are so self-centered that they have little or no ability to care about their victims. The other is aggression, the use of power over another person to inflict humiliation, suffering, and death.

Stone then turns to the various factors that, singly or intertwined, contribute to pushing certain people over the edge into committing heinous crimes. They include heredity, adverse environments, violence-prone cultures, mental illness or brain injury, and abuse of mind-altering drugs. All are considered in the search for the root causes of evil behavior.

What do psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience tell us about the minds of those whose actions could be described as evil? And what will that mean for the rest of us? Stone discusses how an increased understanding of the causes of evil will affect the justice system. He predicts a day when certain persons can safely be declared salvageable and restored to society and when early signs of violence in children may be corrected before potentially dangerous patterns become entrenched.

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The Anatomy of Evil + Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us + Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work
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About the Author

Michael H. Stone, MD (New York, NY) is professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is the author of ten books, most recently Personality Disorders: Treatable and Untreatable, and over two hundred professional articles and book chapters. He is also the host of Discovery Channel’s former series Most Evil and has been featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post, the London Times, the BBAC, and Newsday, among many other media outlets.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The many causes of evil actions Jan. 30 2010
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Stone clearly emphasises that while none of us can properly define the exact causes of evil, all of us can identify its perverse actions when we see it. The author has created a 'must read' for mental health and legal professionals on a topic that most of us would rather avoid; EVIL! It is fully removed from the religionists hands where they have mistakenly defined evil as coming from a malevolent invisible being. No longer can we use the Flip Wilson comedic line of "The Devil made me do it". In its place the causes are squarely placed where they belong; the realms of psychology, genetics and physiology. After an abundance of disturbing examples that Stone painstakenly has drawn from years of research, the author draws his conclusions about evil in the last two chapters. While these conclusions are painfully honest, insomuch that there are no clear deliniators to predetermine evil, he is quite hopeful that we may eventually reach a point whereby we can predict who can and who cannot benefit from therapeutic rehabilatation.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the working of an evil mind May 10 2013
By kskpkrl
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was easier to write about a monster after reading about monsters. The author simplified the complexed. Easy reading for the layman
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and scientific survey of evil in peacetime: Most highly recommended! July 11 2009
By Y. Liu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In "Anatomy of Evil," Dr. Stone (known for his Discovery Channel show, "Most Evil") defines and expands upon the "scale of evil" he uses on the series. Going much further in depth and scholarly analysis than in that excellent series (yet remaining accessible from a lay person's point of view), he defines "evil" against a backdrop of religious, philosophical and psychological debate, favoring in the end a usage that is really separate from those disciplines, and that emerges from contemporary consensus (culled from newscasts, reports, the sentences by a judge, etc.). An important feature of the book is that Stone focuses chiefly here on heinous acts in peacetime (as opposed to in the name of one warring faction, political regime, or another, which Stone suggests would be material for an entirely separate book). Stone has distilled hundreds of true crime books and a vast catalogue of the human cruelty into a compelling and chilling book. He has also interviewed serial killers in prison and mental hospitals, contributing further to his special insights as a forensic psychiatrist.

On Dr. Stone's scale, the highest numbers (the "most evil") are reserved for those who are both extremely sadistic AND are aware (that is, not driven by hallucinations, or other mental disorder) of their actions (prolonged torture, violent rape, murder, etc.), and who show little or no remorse afterward. Like Dante's Inferno, with its descending circles of Hell that Stone refers to in his chapter headings, "The Anatomy of Evil" is a sophisticated, subtle, and uncompromising analysis of the worst in humanity (including contemporary examples, such as Joseph Fritzl, the Austrian father who raped his daughter and kept her and their children in a dungeon beneath his home for decades). It also features chapters delving into the latest scientific research into pathology and the minds of many varieties of horrible people. If for only that reason -- that the book provides a scientific survey of "evil" in all its imaginative, mundane, and ruthless incarnations -- this is a worthwhile addition to the literature, and I think will be of immense value to professionals and average readers (who can stomach it!). Stone's style is gripping and his many examples (infamous and otherwise) vividly support his arguments and theses. A complete Index, with Notes, contributes to the scholarly feel. Most highly recommended.
28 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars awfully thin for 430 pages Sept. 15 2009
By C. P. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What's the fuss all about here? I found this book to be very pedestrian.

Now, I don't know Dr. Stone from Adam's housecat. I was coming to this book with a simple interest in psychology. My guess is a lot of the reviewers were more just fans of Dr. Stone's TV show.

I found the book to be very simplistic. The author seems to have merely created 23 "buckets" for different types of murder - from an impulsive jealousy killing to psycopathic torture. He then plugs in some very short case histories (many from the true crime lit) to illustrate each.

There is also some background, but I found that very sketchy. One reviewer, for example, mentioned liking Stone's explaining jealousy using evolutionary psychology. To me, this was actually about as basic as could be. If you've never been exposed to it, cool. Otherwise, though ... (If you want something in a little more depth, try David Buss's The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill).

Finally, I found Stone's style rather mind-numbing. Other reviewers have mentioned the repetition. I, personally, felt talked down to, like I was back in 2nd grade.

Overall, this might be worth a couple of stars for someone who's already a fan of the TV show. For anyone else, though ...
32 of 44 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and Confounded Aug. 19 2009
By Chris O'Leary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was very interested in this book, and the ideas it puts forth, until I came across the material on Charles Whitman, the University of Texas tower shooter who killed 14 people. The problem with the Whitman case is that he had a brain tumor in the region of the brain that controls emotions. I wouldn't have had a problem if he had been excluded from the book because of this, but for the author to include someone with such a confounding medical history, and to ignore the implications it has for the author's theory, is problematic and makes me question the author's conclusions.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evil as Part of Everyday Life Feb. 19 2010
By southpaw68 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stone has written a solid account of how violent criminals operate and what their characteristics are. He provides a lot of summaries about some of the worst criminals and does some scientific analysis of why they commit violent acts. The book goes between pure academic analysis and sensational story telling; it is neither of both. He has a love of the classics and shows off some of his learning by making references to them, especially Dante's Inferno, which he uses as a scale for how evil each violent criminal is. I did not understand the purpose behind ratings though. The book lacks original insight into the subject. Given the subject, it is disturbing reading at times. When they are not committing violent acts, these criminals can seem rather normal.

As far as violent criminals' characteristics go, they often have the three characteristics in their youth of violence against pet animals, fire-starting, and bed wetting. In their adult years, they may move on to violence against humans. Often these children grow up unloved, unwanted, and abused. These violent criminals are narcissistic and lack empathy for other people's feelings. They have failed to become socialized by good parental care. Occasionally, violent criminals can come from good homes though. They often deny their crimes and show no remorse for their actions. Stone thinks that both genes and environment influence violent behavior in a 50/50 split. Sometimes these criminals have had a severe head injury which reduces their inhibitions or they are on drugs or alcohol which reduces their inhibitions to do evil. They no longer have the mental "brakes" to stop acting out violent fantasies. Although most people have violent fantasies, only rarely do individuals act them out. In the sense that we have violent fantasies that often are unleashed during wartime, we are not very far away from becoming violent criminals, except for the inhibitions, empathy, and moral reasoning that holds us back. Violent criminals can often have a superficial charm that can manipulate people in to doing what they want. This leads people into getting lured into becoming their victim or victimizing others.

Some of these violent criminals have received some incredibly light sentences for their crimes and are often put back on the streets again to produce more mayhem. Stone proposes that criminals that show no signs of remorse or change in behavior should stay in prison if they are determined to be still dangerous. He does think that those who have shown remorse and have changed their behavior should be let back into society again, even though they have taken the lives of others that they will never get back. He is a cautious liberal going between the ideas of "Hang `em high!" or "Give them therapy!" for violent criminals.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most comprehensive coverage available July 6 2009
By KM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Michael Stone has examined more evil acts and evil people than anyone I've ever met, and he's one of the few experts to create an organized system of understanding them. If you're interested in an accessible yet scholarly study of the subject, this is it. Drawing on a number of diverse disciplines, Dr. Stone reveals his impressive knowledge of both historical and comptemporary cases of atrocity, as well as providing a sharp-eyed perspective on a complex phenomenon.
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