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Book and Media Reviews
August 13, 2008

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

JAMA. 2008;300(6):737-738. doi:10.1001/jama.300.6.737

Fairy tales, church sermons, and horror movies all have something in common. They acknowledge the presence of evil in the world as well as human beings' disturbing capacity for destructive force. Malevolence has been around for a long time. According to the Bible, death's first appearance on earth was not only murder but fratricide: Cain killed his brother Abel. How to account for the existence and persistence of human evil? Is wickedness contagious? What type of person demonstrates the most heinous behavior? Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing offers a psychological explanation as to why some human beings are so deliberately harmful to others. It emphasizes that the most extraordinary acts of evil and killing are in fact committed by ordinary individuals.

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