Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common---lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world. In The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse. Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.
Famed British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has spent the last 25 years publishing his research on theories of mind, consistently demonstrating that he is one of the most experimental and cutting-edge specialists in the field of cognition. The Science of Evil, published abroad as Zero Degrees of Empathy, brings together several strands of Baron-Cohen's work into a unified theory of human cruelty that describes empathy as a brain-based and therefore scientifically accessible phenomenon. East Sussex actor Jonathan Crowley does a superb job of conveying how groundbreaking and interesting Baron-Cohen's premise truly is. A frequent voice worker and recent winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, Crowley is no stranger to the invigorating possibilities of scientific non-fiction narration. The psychologist makes it easy on him, with clear writing that explains cognition in everyday terms and with a view toward the practical applications of his theory.
Essentially, there are three diagnoses that have a lack of empathy in common: borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and psychosis. Each of these mental states is missing either the ability to recognize the feelings or others, or the ability to respond to those feelings, or both. This is Baron-Cohen's fundamental argument about the cause of human cruelty. Cruelty is only possible given a lack of empathy, and he devotes a chapter to each of these diagnoses. He devotes additional chapters to autism, the subject around which the majority of Baron-Cohen's research has long orbited. Because autistics are highly systematizing thinkers, they generally develop strong moral rules and a sense of injustice that is not premised upon having empathy, which is a characteristic they lack.
Crowley's lively rendering of the case studies for each type of person having zero degrees of empathy is deeply engrossing. Listeners will be shocked to recognize bits and pieces of their own less than understanding moments embedded in the anecdotal evidence provided here. The book concludes with a hint of the larger implications for a complete study of empathy as a brain-based behavior. Crowley delivers Baron-Cohen's final plea with all the earnest optimism it deserves: if we could use science to isolate the biological sources of empathy, we could eliminate cruelty, and voila -- world peace. —Megan Volpert
"Baron-Cohen's professorial background shines through in the book's tone and in step-by-step, engaging prose urging both academic and lay reader alike to journey with him in scientific inquiry." (
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