Have you ever met a person who left you wondering, "How could someone be so twisted? So evil?" Prompted by clues in her sister’s diary after her mysterious death, author Barbara Oakley takes the reader inside the head of the kinds of malevolent people you know, perhaps all too well, but could never understand. Starting with psychology as a frame of reference, Oakley uses cutting-edge images of the working brain to provide startling support for the idea that "evil" people act the way they do mainly as the result of a dysfunction. In fact, some deceitful, manipulative, and even sadistic behavior appears to be programmed genetically—suggesting that some people really are born to be bad. But there are unexpected fringe benefits to "evil genes." We may not like them—but we literally can’t live without them.
Oakley deftly ties together the big picture implications of revolutionary neuroscientific and genetic discoveries, showing the eerily similar behavioral tics of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic. The dramatic recent scientific findings presented in Evil Genes shed light not only on dictators far afield, but on politics at home, as well as business, religion, and everyday life. In fact, history itself has been shaped by the strange confluence of genes and environment that science is just now beginning to understand. Oakley links the latest findings of molecular research to a wide array of seemingly unrelated historical and current phenomena, from the harems of the Ottomans and the chummy jokes of "Uncle Joe" Stalin, to the remarkable memory of investor Warren Buffet. Throughout, she never loses sight of the personal cost of evil genes as she unravels the mystery surrounding her sister’s enigmatic life—and death. Evil Genes is a tour de force of popular science writing that brilliantly melds scientific research with intriguing family history and puts both a human and a scientific face to evil.
"A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail."
--Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University, and author of
The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Stuff of Thought
"'Scientific non-fiction' and 'page turner' aren’t two phrases I’d expect in the same sentence, but for the remarkable Evil Genes, they fit."
--William A. Wulf, President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering