Review – Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side

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Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side by Dr. Julia Shaw

My rating: 2 out of 5

“Evil” is a non-fiction book by Dr. Julia Shaw, who has a PhD in psychology and works (or has worked) in the criminal psychology field.

I was interested in this book because I expected it to be a scientific look at the different facets of what we perceive as evil. Instead, the book was about the different facets of evil, but without much science. The author would present a study done on the topic and instead of engaging with it in a meaningful way, she would opine that we should not judge others.

While her intentions are good, this does not a scientific book make. It is full of opinions and lame wise cracks. It felt like the author was going for a Mary Roach approach but failed miserably because while Roach cracks jokes, she presents the evidence as is, without her long-winded opinions, which is what Dr. Shaw does.

Because the author does not engage in the material in any depth, it ends up coming off as if she is taking people who do evil acts rather lightly (i.e. they are simply misunderstood). For example, she goes over Jeffrey Dahmer’s story in a rather flippant way and then states that maybe he was just lonely. Because she didn’t engage in his story in a meaningful way (and actually got some of the basic facts wrong about how he got caught), it comes off as if it was something that just happened and we shouldn’t judge him because he had problems.

I don’t disagree that we shouldn’t be painting people as monsters even if they commit monstrous acts because it doesn’t help with anything. But neither should we treat those acts as if  they’re not serious because we’re all flawed and therefore capable of evil. In fact, at some point, the author conflates lying and infidelity with murder. She asks the reader if he/she has ever lied or been unfaithful and then compares it to other evil i.e. murder. Personally, I’d rather be cheated on than murdered but that’s just me…

I wouldn’t recommend wasting time on this one. There are far better true crime adjacent books and even podcasts out there.

I received a digital review from netgalley in exchange for an honest review though I reviewed the finished audiobook version, read by the author (the publisher should have hired an actor, in my opinion).


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