Staub, Ervin. (1989). The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Waller, James. (2007). Becoming evil: How ordinary people commit genocide and mass killing (2nd ed). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Last year I developed a course, What is Evil?, to examine the biological, psychological, and sociological approaches to defining and examining “evil.” A main focus of the course was to get students to understand that we are all capable of committing evil acts—that it’s the “ordinary people” we should seek to understand. These two books were essential in providing an understanding of not only the “personal preconditions” but also the “societal preconditions” that impact how far a society is willing to go in solving their difficult life conditions. Are we willing to stand by as a government scapegoats, dehumanizes, and encourages violence against “others”? Are we willing to actually participate in these harmful actions? Or are we willing to intervene and work together to solve our shared problems?

Nichole K. Bayliss, PhD
Assistant Professor of Criminology, Psychology, and Social Work
Chatham University