The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo

lucifer“The ‘Lucifer Effect’ describes the point in time when an ordinary, normal person first crosses the boundary between good and evil to engage in an evil action.”

Zimbardo is mainly (in)famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment. This book goes further, and explains how ordinary people are capable of evil acts. Zimbardo gave evidence at the trial of the Abu Ghraib torturers; this book explains his thinking on one of the most important psychological issues that there is.

“I summarize more than 30 years of research on factors that can create a “perfect storm” which leads good people to engage in evil actions. This transformation of human character is what I call the “Lucifer Effect,” named after God’s favorite angel, Lucifer, who fell from graceand ultimately became Satan. Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts.”

The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.

The-Better-Angels-of-Our-NatureSteven Pinker is one of those writers that everyone talks about but few people have actually read. He is one of the most well known proponents of evolutionary psychology, and if you call yourself a psychologist then you really have to know what he is about. Don’t just take my word for it. “This is one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.” – Bill Gates. “An astonishingly good book.” – The New York Times. “He writes like an angel.” – The Economist. This one is his most recent work (2011) but you might also look at How the Mind Works, which is a more general overview, and not at all out of date even though it was published in 1999.