I was initially draw to this book by the title, particularly the tag line on how "Good People Turn Evil." I was not prepared for such a thought provoking read and a re-kindling of my interest in psychology, particularly situational psychology.
Zimbardo takes use through a thorough presentation of the entire Stanford Prison Experiment and then applies the lessons learned there to historical and current events to provide another side of the story on how people can commit horrific atrocities often untold. While media more often presents the "Bad Apple" excuse, Zimbardo thoroughly details how more to the point situational factors exercise a more potent influence than our Western Society likes to admit.
The reader is challenged to cast aside tendencies to promotes one’s self in a more powerful and heroic light and honestly reflect on the situations detailed and consider how he or she would act or be influenced. Could you stand for what you believe is right at the risk of social stigmatization, occupational detriment, familial threat, or even threat to one’s mortality? Would you be able to avoid the influence of leaders, higher ups, friends and family urging you to do something against your morals? Against society morals?
Zimbardo show time and again how good people fall prey to these influences through both historical examples and well documented and repeated psychological experiments. He then applies all this to the most poignant example of how situational factors impacted on "good soldiers" encouraging them commit atrocities by describing the recent blight on the United States’s debacle at Abu Ghraib. Zimbardo puts the entire system on trial utilizing journalist reports, interviews with personnel at all levels, and his personal observations.
Zimbardo makes it a point to not excuse personal responsibility by the perpetrators of these acts, but provides a clear case that the finger cannot be pointed solely at the individual but must be widened to include the situational factors too.
The final chapters is a helpful primer on to stand up to situational factors and an urging for more research to be done on the more positive aspects of humanity. Zimbardo posits that the same situational forces are instrumental in influencing people towards malicious acts could be as powerful in influencing people to heroic acts.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interesting in human behavior, society, politics, and history.