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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Paperback – Jan 22 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (Jan. 22 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974447
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.2 x 3.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 440 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Volk #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on June 27 2009
Format: Paperback
Zimbardo is the creator of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, where a group of young college students were randomly split into guards and prisoners in a mock prison for two weeks to see how their roles, the context, and the situation would affect their behavior. Thanks to the intervention of an outsider (Zimbardo himself was too sucked in by the situation to notice), the experiment was stopped short after less than a week as the two groups went wildly out of control. Prisoners were rioting, having nervous breakdowns, and losing all hope while guards became sadistic and authoritarian. Zimbardo quite aptly compares it to the situation at Abu Graib. Context completely took over these normal young adults who had been screened to be just that- healthy, normal young adults.

Most of the book is about the experiment, describing it in great depth and detail. Then there's several chapters on other social science research (including Milgram's dramatic studies of authority), two LONG chapters on Abu Graib (not very interesting to this non-American), and one final chapter on heroes. In particular, this book is lacking (in my opinion) more data and commentary on the latter topic of heroes, as well as MUCH more commentary from the participants of the prison experiment after it's all over. That's what really fascinates me- when normal people turn evil, how do they react to that fact later when they return to normal? How do they cope mentally with the knowledge that they just turned evil?

Because that's really one of two main themes of this book. That is, most evil is done by normal people, just as is most heroics are done by normal people. Because of theme two: the incredible power of social contexts and situations.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Too Soon Old on June 25 2008
Format: Paperback
In "Star Wars", the Jedi knight, Anakin Skywalker, gets turned to the dark side and becomes the notorious Darth Vader. The story is told in such a way that the subtle changes leading to his conversion are quite believable. We would like to think that in real life converting someone to an evil cause would be much more difficult, but in fact it turns out to be even easier than the way it happened in the movie.

In this book Philip Zimbardo the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) documents how easy it is to make good people do bad things. The first part of the book is a detailed account of his "prison" experiment in which students selected as being of average disposition were assigned roles as prisoners and guards in a mock prison, and how quickly they assumed the roles they were given to play. It soon got to a point where the guard behavior became excessively cruel, some of the prisoners were on the verge of mental breakdown, and the experiment had to be aborted. Even Zimbardo himself became immersed in his role as superintendent and forgot his objectivity as the experimenter.

Although I was previously aware of the SPE, I did not know that it had been in part paid for by the U.S. military through the Office of Naval Research. Strangely the author does not see anything that might be wrong with this even though the results were a pretty clear lesson in how to create stress in prisoners.

He goes on to describe other work such as Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiments in which people would obey an authority figure by shocking "learners", actually actors pretending to be shocked, to the point of death. In another experiment women would even shock a puppy to the point of severe injury or death to "help" them learn.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Spencer on Nov. 16 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I worked in a prison for 20 years - I never could put my finger on what it was with the Guards - reading this book was like hitting the 'nail on the head'. It was hard to read because it's so true and having lived it all those years makes it even sadder for me. No I'm not a guard and I think it's work saying that it isn't only the convicts that they mess with - it's the civilian staff as well - the clerks, teachers, shop instructors. Anyone in that prison that isn't a guard is on their list........
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Lucifer Effect is an argument that situational factors play a much larger role in determining behavior than individual agency. Dr. Zimbardo demonstrates this with two main case studies - the Stanford Prison Experiment, which he oversaw, and the abuses at Abu Ghraib, where he was called in to be an expert witness. If you don't know what those things are, you should stop and google them right now. The subject matter alternates between depressing and enraging. His argument however, is an important one to know and keep in mind. This not a happy book, but it is an important one to read if you want to understand how people make moral choices.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stella K. Cheng on May 28 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The product arrived in excellent condition. The book was almost new, just missing the dust jacket.

The way the author presented the material was anecdotal, with insightful observations about the subjects. But of course, he is a psych prof at Stanford.
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