Insight into evil people
February 25, 2018 10:41 AM   Subscribe

The book Why Does He Do That gave a lot of useful information/insight into abusers. I'm looking for similar kinds of information, but about a wide variety of evildoers.

What was great about Why Does He Do That was that Lundy Bancroft had ongoing long-term relationships with the abusive men, and therefore could not only describe the outside mask they presented of themselves and the justifications for their actions, but also the moments when their mask slipped and the actual motivations and beliefs that made them be horrible were revealed.

I am looking for similar (articles, books, documentaries, anything) for any other kind of evildoer*. Doesn't have to be same level of insight as Why Does He Do That-- am aware that's a high bar, am willing to take anything I can get.

*Although I'm particularly interested in those who perpetrate crimes with a large number of victims-- so, war criminals, massive white collar fraud, political corruption, terrorists, cult leaders, etc etc.
posted by Cozybee to Human Relations (25 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo. Zimbardo ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, and this is his explanation of it all.

Lack of Character by Doris, is about the same general subject. This is a more rigorous discussion of the science and philosophy related to the matter. It's the better book, but it's less conversational and more challenging.
posted by meese at 11:04 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's tough going, but Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, by Jean Hatzfield, chronicles interviews with a group of men who are imprisoned for their crimes in the Rwandan genocide.
posted by thelonius at 11:25 AM on February 25, 2018

“The Sociopath Next Door” is as useful as Lundy’s book.
posted by vienna at 12:03 PM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

You may wish to read the Crime Classification Manual, 3rd edition if you are looking at the personality profile of criminals, and it has been expanded to include the sorts of dreadful people you expressed interest in.

It seems thorough on first glance, but I do have an issue with its inherent confirmation bias, but it is not a difficult read.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:17 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't read this, but it sounds interesting (about the rise of Nazism and the people behind it): Diary of a Man in Despair: A Non-Fiction Masterpiece about the Comprehension of Evil.
posted by Bron at 2:52 PM on February 25, 2018

This is about one particular person rather than a group of people, but I found My Friend Dahmer to be a surprisingly sensitive look into Jeffrey Dahmer's life from the perspective of his high school friends before he became a killer.
posted by Alison at 3:11 PM on February 25, 2018

Also, it is insightful to read the 140-page memoir of the 22-year-old UCSB killer. He writes down his life story and thought process.
posted by vienna at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2018


”A Mother’s Reckoning”, from the mother of a Columbine shooter, gives an inside perspective.

”Dance with the Devil” is from grandparents who had to interact weekly with their son’s murderer ex-girlfriend, because she gave birth to their grandchild while awaiting trial.
posted by vienna at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2018

As a therapist who treats a lot of people who have severe personality disorders including antisocial personality disorder, I found this book, In Sheep’s Clothing, very helpful for identifying not only the tools of manipulation but my own vulnerable points to manipulation. I highly recommend it to anyone.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 4:40 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

The work of David Lisak provides a great deal of insight into the mindset and tactics of non-stranger rapists, e.g. Uncomfortable Truths about Campus Rapists; Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.
posted by obstinate harpy at 6:05 PM on February 25, 2018

For a classic: Cleckly's The Mask of Sanity.

Cleckly is the godfather of studying psychopathy.
posted by floweredfish at 6:38 PM on February 25, 2018

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. Or Them. All the Ronson.
posted by Merinda at 6:46 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm reading Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People by Wendy L. Patrick PhD, and I think it may have some of what you're looking for, though it's not entirely about purely evil people there has been plenty of mention of sociopaths/psychopaths.

It's focused mainly on reading people; from the description: You need this book if you: -want to know if a potential boyfriend is trustworthy -are interviewing or hiring new employees -are selecting anyone to take care of your children -are lending money or property -have partners in business. However, she's a deputy district attorney; team leader in the Sex Crimes and Stalking Division of the San Diego County District Attorney's Office; and co-chair of both the Statewide California District Attorneys Association Sexually Violent Predator Committee and the Human Trafficking Committee... so she has a lot of experience with evil people.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:39 PM on February 25, 2018

I found People of the Lie, by M Scott Peck, to be very insightful about the more mundane kinds of human evil. (It gets a bit eccentric in later chapters but that doesn’t cancel out the depth of the insight in the early part of the book).
posted by Aravis76 at 9:50 PM on February 25, 2018

The answers above are all going to give you insights into different kinds of evil behavior.

"My Friend Dahmer" is about someone who seems to have something seriously biologically/neurologically wrong with them.

Machete Season, Nazi case studies, and other books about infantry level people who participated in genocides are going to give you insight into the kind of lynch mob/pogrom mass hysteria mentality that can be incited in large groups of people, as a social rather than individual behavior.

The Act Of Killing is an intense documentary about perpetrators of mass killings in the Suharto administration in Indonesia, where the documentarian gives mass murderers and death squad commanders the chance to re-enact their exploits in the style of their favorite movies (gangster, western, musical) in between interviews. It's on Youtube. I haven't been able to watch it in full but it is A Lot.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:07 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eichmann in Jerusalem
posted by chrisulonic at 11:23 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it, but my mother really enjoyed Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:02 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why They Kill, by Richard Rhodes. Mostly about general crime and poverty and living in unsafe conditions and how that changes people's impulse control and control over their emotions.
posted by agregoli at 5:48 AM on February 26, 2018

+1 The Act Of Killing. Surreal, educational, moving. It's a remarkable documentary.

I didn't know anything about Indonesia in the 1960s before I saw it, and now I can't forget what I learned.
posted by theorique at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2018

I would check out Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth - where he explores/explains the spiritual dynamics of individuals/groups/nations that are stuck and fixated in us/them relationships- even to violent ends. He also writes about the nature of selfishness/ego-driven thought and action. (while he doesn't get into mental illness per se, he does write extensively on "insanity.")
posted by mrmarley at 1:16 PM on February 26, 2018

Stanley Cohen's States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities And Suffering talks about how ordinary people's denial enables evildoers to keep evildoing -- apologies if bystander-denial doesn't fit your idea of "evildoers" (it fits mine). Also addresses how many ordinary Germans during the Holocaust just chose not to think about the implications of any disturbing facts they encountered. Lots of parallels to many people today.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:07 PM on February 26, 2018

Just found out about this book which comes out on Tues:
posted by foxjacket at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Will take me a while to get around to marking best answers because it's taking me a while to read all the recommendations, but some information I think could be useful to future people stumbling across this thread:

1. Jon Ronson's books did not seem to go into any depth beyond superficial external impressions of the evil people discussed. I am only halfway through Them, so maybe this changes in later chapters.
2. People of the Lie has some heavily christian parts, and some very (out)dated psychology (including a really bizarre use of the word "autistic" as somehow synonymous with "bad person"? Kinda hoping I misread that bit). There was plenty of useful/interesting stuff, but also an entire chapter on exorcisms. Adding this heads up because I would have appreciated having it myself.

I haven't been able to find The Act of Killing on youtube, only trailers and interviews with the director...
posted by Cozybee at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2018

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