The Anatomy of Evil by Michael H. Stone, M.D.
Non-Fiction Book Reviews
Book Review: The Anatomy of Evil
By Sandy Amazeen Jul 31, 2009
The crimes of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Dennis Rader, and other high-profile killers are so breathtakingly awful that most people would not hesitate to label them ‘evil’. In this ground-breaking book, renowned psychiatrist Michael H Stone – host of Discovery Channel’s former series “Most Evil” – uses this common emotional reaction to horrifying acts as his starting point to explore the concept and reality of evil from a new perspective. In an in-depth discussion of the personality traits and behaviour that constitute evil across a wide spectrum, Dr Stone takes a clarifying scientific approach to a topic that for centuries has been inadequately explained by religious doctrines. Basing his analysis on the detailed biographies of over 600 violent criminals, Stone has created a 22-level hierarchy of evil behaviour, which loosely reflects the structure of Dante’s Inferno. He traces two salient personality traits that run the gamut from those who commit crimes of passion to perpetrators of the worst crimes – sadistic torture and murder. One trait is narcissism, as exhibited in people who are so self-centred that they have little or no ability to care about their victims. The other is aggression, the use of power over another person to inflict humiliation, suffering, and death. Stone then turns to the various factors that, singly or intertwined, contribute to pushing certain people over the edge into committing heinous crimes. They include heredity, adverse environments, violence-prone cultures, mental illness or brain injury, and abuse of mind-altering drugs. All are considered in the search for the root causes of evil behaviour. What do psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience tell us about the minds of those whose actions could be described as evil? And what will that mean for the rest of us? Stone discusses how an increased understanding of the causes of evil will affect the justice system. He predicts a day when certain persons can safely be declared salvageable and restored to society and when early signs of violence in children may be corrected before potentially dangerous patterns become entrenched.
Expanding upon his scale of evil made popular in the television show Most Evil, Dr. Stone broadens the definition of evil by placing it within the context of social, religious and psychological references. Using historic and current predators to illustrate his points, Dr. Stone has creating an interesting if very disjointed catalog of human evil in all its darkest facets. Fascinating case histories lose some of their point making punch when placed within a chapter with no introduction or commentary to provide context. Still, this is an absorbing examination of humanity’s capacity for perpetrating truly horrible acts upon one another while looking at the role drugs, alcohol, genetics, upbringing, mental illness and other factors might have played.
True crime readers and those interested in learning more about the possible motivations of torturers and deranged killers will want to give this a look, just be aware that the editing is not as tight as it could be. The nature of the crimes, the sheer depth of evil makes this as terrifying read as any thriller and worse, the villains are real.
Michael H. Stone
Michael H. Stone, MD (New York, NY) is professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is the author of ten books, most recently Personality Disorders: Treatable and Untreatable, and over two hundred professional articles and book chapters. He is also the host of Discovery Channel’s former series Most Evil and has been featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post, the London Times, the BBAC, and Newsday, among many other media outlets.