Synopsis (from Amazon)
In The Lucifer Effect, the award-winning and internationally respected psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, examines how the human mind has the capacity to be infinitely caring or selfish, kind or cruel, creative or destructive. He challenges our conceptions of who we think we are, what we believe we will never do – and how and why almost any of us could be initiated into the ranks of evil doers. At the same time he describes the safeguards we can put in place to prevent ourselves from corrupting – or being corrupted by – others, and what sets some people apart as heroes and heroines, able to resist powerful pressures to go along with the group, and to refuse to be team players when personal integrity is at stake. Using the first in-depth analysis of his classic Stanford Prison Experiment, and his personal experiences as an expert witness for one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, Zimbardo’s stimulating and provocative book raises fundamental questions about the nature of good and evil, and how each one of us needs to be vigilant to prevent becoming trapped in the ‘Lucifer Effect’, no matter what kind of character or morality we believe ourselves to have. The Lucifer Effect won the William James Book Award in 2008.
Oh how long have I been reading this book? Seems like I have been reading it for months! It has taken a long time but not because it’s uninteresting or badly written. In fact of the psychology books I’ve read aimed at none psychologists this is probably the best written. It doesn’t use too much specialised language and, unlike the others I’ve read, when it does it seems to be explained well. I’m probably not the best person to say that as I have a psychology degree but I was trying to think of how people who know little about psychology would view it. Despite a good writing style I can’t really say that it was easy to read. The subject matter was quite disturbing, in parts things which happened during the Stanford Prison Experiment and at Abu Ghraib were described in such detail that it actually made me feel a bit ill, there were pictures from Abu Ghraib that I’ve never seen before, and were nasty. The thought that anybody, any normal person, could do those sort of things is disturbing because it’s one of those things you never imagine you could do, but maybe that’s wrong. I’m glad to be aware of it though, it’s like a guard against it.
Certainly not an easy book to read, but an important one I think, and very interesting, I definitely recommend it.
Edit: I forgot to say something which I disliked about the book was that sometimes Zimbardo seemed to be pushing his own political views, or even agenda, when it came to discussing Abu Ghraib, and it did mean that there was some content which wasn’t really needed (at least to the extent he discussed it) when thinking about the situation surrounding the events at the prison.