Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How Could People Do That?

I've been meaning to post recommendations of books that connect with the two blog series we ran recently. In connection with the series featuring MVFHR members who do various forms of violence prevention work, I want to recommend James Gilligan's book Preventing Violence, which is a wonderful companion to his earlier book Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes. Dr. Gilligan's work is powerful, insightful, and, for many readers, transformative.

Then, in connection with our series that featured excerpts from our July panel of families of the executed, I want to remind readers about four books that deal directly with this subject: Susan Sharp's Hidden Victims, Rachel King's Capital Consequences, Elizabeth Beck's In the Shadow of Death, and Robert Meeropol's An Execution in the Family.

In her remarks during the July panel, Tamara Chikunova told the audience that she had her son had both been tortured, and in connection with that, I can't recommend Philip Zimbardo's new book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil highly enough. Zimbardo is the researcher best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which mentally healthy students were chosen to replicate prison conditions for two weeks -- some as guards, some as prisoners. The students acting as guards soon behaved so brutally that the experiment had to be stopped after only six days. Zimbardo and his colleagues learned so much about what happens to even the most ordinary and stable individuals under certain kinds of conditions that he was called in as a consultant after the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison came to light. His book discusses all of this in clear and compelling detail and analysis, and it begins to answer the question, "How could people do that?" Valuable reading for any of us whose work puts us up against these issues and questions.

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