EVIL GENES: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend

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Praise for Evil Genes

"A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail."

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University

"This story is not only good science writing, it's also achingly personal, as Oakley recounts the story of her selfish sister and relates it to what science is revealing about the way our brains work and how genes influence even our ability to tell right from wrong. It's not often that a book about science can also break your heart - Oakley's achievement is astonishing."
Píldora contra la impotencia masculina es un fármaco para tratar la disfunción eréctil.
--Orson Scott Card, award-winning author of Ender's Game, Enchantment, and Empire.

A highly-readable, entertaining, ground-breaking, must-read study with notable insights on the rise and fall of empires; but more importantly, it offers, perhaps for the first time, a distinctly plausible mechanism for explaining the origin and persistence of social inequality.”

--Glenn Storey, President, Iowa Society of the Archeological Institute of America, Associate Professor of Classics and Anthropology, University of Iowa, and editor of Urbanism in the Preindustrial World: Cross-Cultural Approaches.

Whatever you might believe about the role of genetics versus environment, Evil Genes will take you somewhere you haven’t been. Barbara Oakley brilliantly reveals the falseness of one of the ego's evil little lies: That all our behavior is decided by us.”
--Gavin de Becker, bestselling author, The Gift of Fear

"Remarkable—and difficult to put down ... a wonderfully readable tapestry of family autobiography, historical biography, and biological psychology. Without oversimplifying their psychosocial complexity, Evil Genes explores new research on the genetics and neurobiology of personality disorders. Shining this light on some of the most problematic figures of our era, it challenges our assumptions about the roots of terrorism, genocide, crime, corruption--and even the sinister sides of politics, business, and religion."

--Terrence W Deacon, Professor of Biological Anthropology and Neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Symbolic Species.

"From historical figures, through the science of neurotransmitters and neuroimaging, and ultimately to events in her own life, Oakley interweaves many ideas to present a fascinating treatise on the nature of evil in the world. Using an exceptionally easy and readable style, Oakley challenges us to think about evil--the interaction of complex forces of nature and the painful events of history, in a unique way."

--Kenneth R Silk, MD
Professor of Psychiatry
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, MI

"Professor Oakley has done that rare thing: written a scientific book that is at once informative and eminently readable. She has taken “evil” out of the realm of the religious and metaphysical, placing it instead where it belongs—inside ourselves, as in the famous Pogo cartoon: “we have met the enemy, and he is us!” Her book is filled with many examples, some drawn from close personal experience, of the complicated ways genetics and environment interact to predispose toward evil. The genetic side of the story has been neglected far too long. Evil Genes makes an important and timely addition to the literature on this most fascinating topic. Professor Oakley’s book aims at, and deserves, a wide readership."

Michael H. Stone, MD
Professor of Clinical Psychiatry: Columbia

"A fascinating book that manages to make the neurosciences intelligible to a layman. Its argument that at least some of human evil is encoded on our genes is hard to refute, and this reader wasn't tempted to do so."

Dr. Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds

"Through a fascinating blend of state-of-the-art science, political biography, and personal catharsis, Evil Genes constructs a provocative blueprint for our understanding of the "successfully sinister" among us.

--David J. Buller, Presidential Research Professor, Northern Illinois University, and author of Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the
Persistent Quest for Human Nature

"Einstein once said that all important new science would be found at the interstices of existing disciplines; if you need proof of that, this book is it. Starting with a background in the military, linguistics and electrical engineering, Oakley deftly moves through psychology, functional brain imagery and molecular biology to weave a compelling and provocative case for a genetic base for evil. 'Scientific non-fiction' and 'page turner' aren’t two phrases I’d expect in the same sentence, but for the remarkable Evil Genes, they fit."

--William A. Wulf, President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering

"A magnificent tour through the sociology, psychology, and biology of evil. No one should pass up the experience of stepping through the portals of this fascinating book to answer Oakley's crucial question: Why are there evil people, and why are they sometimes so successful?"

–-Dr. Cliff Pickover, author of A Beginner's Guide to Immortality and The Heaven Virus

"Are all children born good? Are bad people bad because of the way their parents brought them up? Barbara Oakley's fascinating book might change your mind about the answers to these questions."

--Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike.

“This book conveys an enormous amount of complex, up-to-date scientific information in an extremely 'digestable' manner. Dr. Oakley manages to illustrate how, although our genetic make-up is not our destiny, there are clearly people who have an unfortunate dose of risk genes. These people often have impoverished social and emotional experience and can cause suffering to those around them. Although firmly grounded in science, this book is also compassionate and forces the reader to examine their own beliefs and prejudices in the light of what is currently known about the nature and nurture of 'evil'.”

--Essi Viding, PhD, Department of Psychology, University College London

"As a forensic psychologist who has spent much of my career delving into the darkest recesses of the criminal mind, I have often wondered what roles genes and environment play in subsequent psychopathic behavior. Barbara Oakley's outstanding Evil Genes provides the answers."

--Helen Smith, PhD, author of The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill

"Blending brisk studies of notorious evil-doers with her own difficult family history, Dr. Oakley skilfully weaves together a panoramic mix of history, psychology and the complications of human behaviour to make a stimulating, provocative and accessible read."

--Adam LeBor, author of Milosevic: A Biography and Complicity With Evil: the United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide.

"Many of us encounter people whose reactions are puzzling. They are easily hurt and offended. Even when someone is being generous, or kind to them they might react with anger, revengefulness, defensiveness, suspiciousness or aloofness. These are difficult people to have as friends, relatives, colleagues and even as patients. Dr. Oakley has written a comprehensive and compassionate explanation for why some people are like this that will be fascinating to anyone who has encountered this type of person and cared enough to wonder ‘why?’"

--Regina Pally, M.D. psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, author of The Mind-Brain Relationship


Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend
Have you ever met a person who left you wondering, “How could someone be so twisted? So evil?” That’s how Barbara Oakley felt about her late sister. Following clues in the diary she left behind, Oakley takes the reader inside the heads of malevolent people you know—perhaps all too well—but could never understand. Until now.

Evil Genes blends gripping family history with rigorous research to put a human and scientific face to evil. Starting with psychology, Oakley uses cutting-edge images of the working brain to provide startling support for the idea that “evil” people act the way they do mainly as the result of a dysfunction. In fact, some deceitful, manipulative, and even sadistic behavior appears to be programmed genetically—suggesting that some people really are born to be bad. But there are unexpected fringe benefits to “evil genes.” We may not like them, but we literally can't live without them.

Oakley demonstrates how history itself has been shaped by a strange confluence of genes and environment that is just now beginning to be understood. She ties together recent neuroscientific and genetic discoveries, showing the eerily similar behavioral tics of such dictators as Mao, Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic. She also links the latest findings of molecular research to a wide array of historical and current phenomena, from the harems of the Ottomans, to the chummy jokes of “Uncle Joe” Stalin, to the remarkable memory of investor Warren Buffett.

Throughout, Oakley never loses sight of the personal cost of “evil genes” as she unravels the mystery surrounding her sister's enigmatic life—and death.

The author's sister Carolyn--ever the enigma.

Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler
Barbara Oakley's riveting portrayal of espionage, lust, comic adventure, hard work - and harder drinking - brings to life a little-known episode of American history when two cold-warring nations got together to fish the north Pacific. Oakley proved to be a resourceful Russian translator - one who could silence the KGB with a squirt gun or handle a mob of drunken Russians seeking nirvana at K-Mart in downtown Portland. She is an equally imaginative author who has provided one of those rarest of book finds: a reflection upon an unknown world; and entertaining tale of adventure; and a thought-provoking examination of the intertwining consequences of fanaticism, greed, and opportunity.

"The Killer in the Lecture Hall," The New York Times, April 19th, 2007.
Our universities are able to deal with evil as a literary subject but not as a fact of life.

Herd Your Horses
A perennial best-seller that was selected as a top-100 game by Games Magazine.

Selected Works

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend
“A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail.”
--Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University
Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler
“Always revealing, sometimes explosive, and often hilarious... a book any reader is sure to drink up.”
--critic and writer, Brian Arundel of the National Fisherman
"The Killer in the Lecture Hall," The New York Times, April 19th, 2007.
A professor’s reaction to the Virginia Tech Massacre.
Picture Board Game
Herd Your Horses
A perennial best-seller that was selected as a top-100 game by Games Magazine.