Born of a preoccupation with saints and sinners, The Evil That Men Do is Brian Masters' investigation into the nature of good and evil, and the different ways in which they can be manifested. It examines the fundamental questions of why we are as we are: why we are good, why we care for one another, why we can be altruistic and kind as well as selfish and cruel.
According to science, we are prisoners of our genetic inheritance. Are our impulses therefore to some extent inescapable, compelling us to behave in a certain manner, irrespective of the guidelines imposed by instinct or civilization? Or can we determine our individual patterns of behaviour? Do we really have a choice?
Using a diverse multitude of examples, from St. Francis of Assisi, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Chatwin and Bob Geldof to the Marquis de Sade, Adolf Hitler and Peter Sutcliffe, from the Spanish Inquisition to Nazi Germany to the Vietnam War, Brian Masters examines this age-old yet intensely contemporary subject. At a time when civilization seems on the verge of meltdown, he has produced an incisive, thoughtful and provocative meditation on a fundamental human question.
A welcome link in the chain of understanding: a work of ambition and complexity underpinned by an obvious desire to grasp the fundamental nature of ourselves
An exercise in moral philosophy ... imbued with the writer's kindly wisdom or quivering indignation. [Masters'] accounts of our brutality and sadism to ourselves and our fellow creatures, although not lavish and never unnecessarily dwelt upon, harrow us the more keenly just because they are so well-written and admirably chosen.
His discussion of evil and good is calmly, even cooly detailed. It is not merely by his compassionate distancing that Masters' study manages to engage the reader; his research seems to have been exhaustive and copious. His range is impressive.