Bookshelf: Head Trips and Evil Genes

Evil Genes

By Barbara Oakley

Spurred by her late sister Carolyn's hostile disposition and scheming nature, Barbara Oakley sets out to determine what makes some people ruthless monsters, with special attention to a socially cunning, manipulative behavior known as Machiavellianism. In the end, Oakley finds it's not so simple to sum up the causes of malevolence—but she is successful at intertwining science with her family's history as she considers the factors that led to Carolyn's temperament. Oakley's explanations are lucid, making Evil Genes an easy read even for those who need a refresher course on chromosomes, serotonin, and the amygdala. In addition to explaining why problems with DNA, hormones, and brain structure may form their own axis of evil, Oakley discusses several psychiatric disorders. We learn that Slobodan Milosevic may have wreaked havoc in the Balkans due to his powers of manipulation and what Oakley believes was borderline personality disorder. From infamous dictators to conniving sisters, Machiavellians come in many shapes and sizes. Now we have some insight into what makes them tick.

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Head Trip

By Jeff Warren

Call it a travel guide to consciousness. From familiar landmarks like REM sleep and daydreaming to more exotic waystations like the "pure conscious event," Warren's exhilarating tour probes 12 varieties of conscious experience. Between lucid outlines of the latest research, Warren recounts his own adventures: training his attention with neurofeedback, trying his hand at Buddhist meditation, and banishing artificial light in search of a tranquil nocturnal wakefulness known as "the watch." Culling the insights of anthropologists, neuroscientists, and monks, Warren offers a heady trip indeed.

What Is Emotion?

By Jerome Kagan

In What Is Emotion?, the eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan argues that both everyday descriptions of feelings and science's quest to characterize them fall short. Should emotions be defined by their effects, sources, or neural correlates? By comparing traditional indicators of emotions like brain activity, facial expressions, and heart rate, Kagan exposes some misconceptions: What observers label as fear, for instance, is often simply surprise. Kagan's meticulous overview of how we understand emotion exposes several explanatory gaps that disparate fields must—for now—come to accept.

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