• The Lucifer Effect

  • Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
  • By: Philip Zimbardo
  • Narrated by: Kevin Foley
  • Length: 26 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 01-04-11
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.3 (59 ratings)


What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it? Renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has the answers, and in The Lucifer Effect
Drawing on examples from history as well as his own trailblazing research, Zimbardo details how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this landmark study, in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into guards and inmates and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week, the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners. By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. He replaces the long-held notion of the "bad apple" with the "bad barrel" - the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around.
This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically.
©2007 Philip G. Zimbardo, Inc. (P)2011 Tantor
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Critic reviews

"Zimbardo challenges readers] to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world's ills." ( Publishers Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 02-12-13


Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, if that friend is interested in psychology and/or theories about good and evil.

Zimbardo's theory is, in short, that there is no such thing as bad apples, only bad barrels. He explains this through the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and looks at other events (such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse) in this light. The Stanford Prison Experiment shows, as the Milgram experiment, that perfectly normal people are capable of doing very bad things under the right circumstances.

This is really something that should interest everyone, because most of us walk around with the idea of ourselves as someone who would never do anything evil - that we are fundamentally different from evil people. According to Zimbardo, we are all at risk of doing bad things, and he offers some insight on how to avoid it here.

What did you like best about this story?

Quite a lot of it is dedicated to the Stanford Prison Experiment, and everything else is based on this. It is a rather long book, slightly dry at times, but good overall. I found the descriptions of what went on in the "prison" interesting, but some people might be put off by the amount of detail put into this part. Other than that, it was thought-provoking to listen to the comparison between his experiment and real events, such as Abu Ghraib.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

There have been made several documentaries about the Stanford Prison Experiment. My tag-line would probably be something about bad barrels. Or something... This is a weird question...

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Zara Wimperis on 21-04-16

The Drone Effect

I found the idea of this book fascinating, the 'prologue' held a lot of promise, a scientific social experiment looking into it the idea that in certain situations good people can be influenced to do horrific things (nazis, Nanking etc)

I tried!! I really tried! Four hours in & we were past the interesting delve into the subject & instead focusing on the authors own experiment of normal college boys as prisoners & guards in a well thought out social experiment.
As the sixth hour rolled by the narrators voice was becoming a droning whine as we go over & over how the guards slowly objectify the prisoners. It goes on and on and on and on with no hope of any kind of climax.... I looked at the screen & saw I still had 19hrs to go & had to give it up as a bad job 😓
I've never not finished an audiobook

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Peter on 09-06-12

What Most of Us Would Wish To Deny About Ourselves

Where does The Lucifer Effect rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Tough to answer. It is a chore to absorb because the subject is so distasteful and contrary to wishful thinking. As far as value to my personal life is concerned, it rates in the top three. As far as enjoyability is concerned it rates low. This is a "must read" and tears away at the illusion that we are all basically averse to committing atrocious behaviors.

Who was your favorite character and why?

This is not a book about characters. It is a work on the CHARACTER of mankind.

What aspect of Kevin Foley’s performance would you have changed?

Dunno. It is a tough book to narate because of the distasteful subject matter.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The book made me angry at my species, my government and the people who are willing to sell-out being good humans in exchange for awards, promotions or just not being punished for violating basic human ethics because of orders from peoples supposedly in positions of authority.

Any additional comments?

This is another great work that, if read by the masses, would have a positive outcome on our world because people cannot just sit back and ignore the world after experiencing "The Lucifer Effect" and the artful and determined way Zimbardo gave it to us.

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13 of 13 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Douglas on 21-11-11

Zimbardo Comes Clean...

I have studied the Standford Prison Experiment for many years and teach it in one of my classes in which I focus on theories of morality. The points made in documentaries and other writings I have come across have made me feel like Zimbardo has kept a very tight hand on the portrayal of this very controversial experiment (now considered unethical in psychological study circles due to the mental anguish caused to participants) and, more disturbing, his tight grip on his own reputation and role in the experiment. The fact is, Zimbardo went as crazy as any of his guards, maybe more so, considering the power he wielded in the situation, and it when his girlfriend (later his wife) who eventually pointed out that he was senselessly tormenting kids and letting them torment each other and she was the reason that the experiment ended. In almost every documentary I have seen, there is Zimbardo, employing subtle mitigations for his own behavior, using phrases like "EVEN I [emphasis mine] was affected by the power of the situation..." etc., when perhaps he should have said "ESPECIALLY I was affected by the power of the situation, which I set in motion and in which I should have shown the most responsible behavior..." In short, I always say Zimbardo as one engaging in justifying denial and rationalization.

I was impressed that in the PREFACE of this book, Zimbardo acknowledges his behavior as "evil," using that very word in regard to himself and he doesn't follow it up with his usual posturing regarding it. I also like that he emphasizes in this book that the individual is STILL RESPONSIBLE for his/her behavior, even when under the power of a situation, something I have not heard him really say in so many words before, or at least in not such clear terms.

Another reviewer complains of all the details given about the Standford Prison Experiment, but I, as someone who has studied this benchmark in group psychology for a long time, was DELIGHTED to finally get the full story.

And that he had included an entire section on individual responsibility and how to resist the power of the situation makes this a masterpiece in psychology.

Thumbs up all the way around.

(I never comment on the narrators, because I feel that is irrelevant in the evaluation of a book--hey, I am choosing to listen rather than read, so I take what I can get--but I also have to respond to the other reviewer's panning of Foley reading this text. He's not the best, but I don't find him distracting in the slightest.)

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27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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