Having previously addressed specific prejudices concerning race, Waller (social psychology, Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington) outlines an explanation of extraordinary human evil in more general terms. He considers the wide range of factors involved in the process of ordinary people coming to commit extraordinary evil. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
From the Turks' massacre of Armenians in 1915 through the Serbians' slaughter of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims during the 1990s, the 20th century was an era of mass killing. Social psychologist Waller (Face to Face: The Changing State of Racism Across America) develops a four-layered theory of how everyday citizens became involved. First considering factors in evolutionary psychology such as humans' instinctive xenophobia and desire for social dominance Waller examines psychosocial influences on the killers, from people's willingness to obey authority even when causing others physical pain (the famous Milgram experiments of the early 1960s play a role here) to elements of rational self-interest (subscribing to, or at least not dissenting from, the norms of a military or other group). Waller's third element focuses on how some groups can create a "culture of cruelty," in which initially reluctant individuals ultimately commit heinous acts. In his last and most interesting section, Waller shows how a perpetrator learns to see his victim as a less-than-human "other," so that, in some cases, the victim is even blamed for his or her death. There is no new research here, and Waller's theory is quite complex. But he clearly and effectively synthesizes a wide range of studies to develop an original and persuasive model of the processes by which people can become evil. (July) Forecast: Readers of Samantha Power's A Problem from Hell and Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men will welcome this next step in the debate about man's inhumanity to man. Because Waller provides a broad overview and a summary of the current research, this also an excellent choice for readers just beginning to investigate the phenomenon. See also the "Notes" below. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.