Review Of "The Evil Of Banality: On The Life And Death Importance Of Thinking" By E. K. Minnich

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This marvelous book deserves a wide readership. Hannah Arendt, Minnich’s mentor, wrote the famous book The Banality of Evil. But what Minnich sees in Arendt’s book, and in her own case studies, is the great evil resulting from thoughtlessness, which is anything but banal. Minnich shows that "not seeing," a certain obtuseness that hides the full reality of what one is doing, is too often cultivated. One of Minnich’s key distinctions is between intensive and extensive evil. The former involves a few people who do monstrous things (the Charles Manson cult). This kind of evil, she argues, can be contained. Extensive evil involves many people going about their lives in ordinary ways, however thoughtlessly, however obtusely, for example, the countless "ordinary Germans" needed to make the Holocaust possible. Because the network is so wide, it is much more difficult to contain. Minick does point out that one also finds intensive goodness (e.g., Oskar Schindler comes to mind) and that extensive goodness remains a possibility. The difference, of course, is that the latter cannot be thoughtless: it must be created with attention and care, no easy task. Written in a personal, lively style, this book a delight to read, even if the cases of extensive evil depress. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.


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