Book Review: Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain by Kathleen Taylor

I took my time with this book because I wanted to read and remember every point. Also, because I stopped reading the book multiple times to discuss the issue stated with my husband. (Poor man. He has grown used that I pester him with the books I read.) This book made me think. It gave me a comprehensive picture of cruelty, starting from notions of evil from a cultural and a religious perspective going through brain structure and chemistry to evolutionary psychology. The only downside the book has is its weak take on sadism, but that is not the book’s fault. Most what we understand about sadism and why it persists is guesswork. Don’t get me wrong the guesswork might be right, but it is not the same as to speak about chemical bonding of water.

The tone of the book is excellent. There amongst the facts, Kathleen Taylor has sprinkled humor and sarcasm which is as morbid as mine. Also, she quotes literature and draws points from them how we understand cruelty or evil. She combines those quotes always with science or history. I found the book easy and engaging to read. She always introduces the subject, and at the end of the chapter (and end of the book) she summarizes what she said.

About the conclusion. It seems we humans are cruel. That it is part of our nature. To point out, the question if an act is evil or not or what act is evil is subject to the culture and time the question is asked. Kathleen Taylor cautions to see cruelty as evil as it easily moves it out of us to the “others,” removing such actions from our own behavior. (Everyday callousness is a part of cruelty.) But while the conclusion might seem hopeless Kathleen Taylor writes that reducing sadism and cruel acts are possible by acknowledging that cruelty is part of human nature and only then we can reduce cruelty through education. I love the fact she continues on and warns about a notion that in the future we might remove cruelty with a pill altering our brain chemistry. It would be dangerous, and where would the control over our minds and bodies stop?

I could go on about the content of the book. About its little jokes. The thought experiments she writes about. The style. The subject. Everything. But it is better if you read it yourself. This book was amazing. It reaffirmed what I have learned about human behavior, but it also told me new aspects of cruelty and sadism and left me sad with some examples. Those examples are the worst we humans can do and as Kathleen Taylor writes in the first chapter if there are any aliens without a single thought of malice, they should stay away.

Amazing book!

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