The Anatomy of Evil Hardcover – Jul 28 2009
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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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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.
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.
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 ...