Book Review: Evil Genes

Reviewed by Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)

Dr. Barbara Oakley is the author of Evil Genes—Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Oakley’s resume reads like something out of a spy novel: She worked as a translator on Russian fishing trawlers during the Cold War, went from a private to an officer in the military, met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole,  and is now a professor of bio-engineering.

About this book, Gavin DeBecker writes, “Whatever you might believe about the role of genetics versus environment, Evil Genes will take you somewhere you haven’t been. Barbara Oakley brilliantly reveals the falseness of one of the ego’s little lies: That all our behavior is decided by us.”

Psychology Today writes “The author is successful at intertwining science with her family’s history ”¦ Oakley’s explanations are lucid, making Evil Genes and easy read even for those who need a refresher course on chromosomes, seratonin, and the amygdalae ”¦ From infamous dictators to conniving sisters, Machiavellians come in many shapes and sizes. Now we have some insight into what makes them tick.”

Like the previous book of Dr. Oakley’s that I reviewed, Cold-Blooded Kindness, this book was so interesting that I could hardly put it down, and I wore out another yellow highlighter marking especially interesting passages I wanted to review again.

Dr. Oakley’s sister, Carolyn, actually did steal her mother’s boyfriend, and was highly Machiavellian, probably psychopathic. Dr. Oakley personally and professionally “gets it” about toxic people. She focuses her book on the genetics plus the environments that make people with personality disorders “successful” or not so “successful,”  by looking at various people, including her sister, Carolyn, as well as Mao, Stalin, the CEO of Enron, and Hitler. She looks at how their genetic tendencies and family histories folded together with environments that placed them at a juncture where they could blossom into the abusers on either a personal scale or a worldwide scale.

She looks at the way in which genes, and their variations, affect not only how we look, but how we react and think, how self-serving we are, or how altruistic we may be. She takes the very subjects that are discussed daily here at LoveFraud and puts them into scientific jargon, but in such a way that even if you had trouble in Mrs. Smith’s seventh-grade science class, you can still understand what she is talking about.

Dr. Oakley doesn’t just focus on the psychopaths, but on the personality disorders in general and the fact that “borderline,”  “narcissistic,”  “histrionic” and “antisocial” personality disorders overlap in such a way that they are more likely to be different points on a continuum rather than separate entities. She refers to the “total” personality disordered as the “successfully sinister” or “Machiavellian.” About trying to tell someone who has not been targeted by one, she says it is like:

trying to explain color to a blind person ”¦ People simply aren’t generally raised and educated to understand the small percentages of the population—some of whom are outwardly very successful—are quite capable of masking deeply disturbed personalities. Sometimes, sadly, the devastating reality of these “unfixable” personalities becomes clear only after marriage and children. (As relationship expert Russell Friedman once quipped: “You can’t love someone into mental health.”)

“I can’t believe there might be some kind of scientific explanation for this,” the have-dealt-withs tell me time after time, “I never even talk about it because no one would believe me.” Without knowledge of recent studies, people have little way of figuring out that their seemingly isolated experience was far more common than they’d realized.

There are few books that I have ever found as interesting as I have Dr. Barbara Oakley’s two books, and I am anxiously awaiting her latest book which is due to be published in August. Don’t let her “subtitle” to Evil Genes of “Why Rome fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend” put you off or fool you. This is well researched and documented information about the “successfully sinister.” The book adds to the growing knowledge available to the public (not just the professionals) about the “psychopaths among us,” that will hopefully help educate the general public about how to spot toxic personalities and realize that they truly are “unfixable.

Like Gavin DeBecker, who had a mother who was personality disordered, Dr. Oakley had a sister who was personality disordered. She, like DeBecker, not only “gets it,” but knows how to present it so that others can “get it” from her writings. I highly recommend this work.

Evil Genes—Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriendis available on

Comment on this article

107 Comments on "Book Review: Evil Genes"

Notify of

Sky-that could very well be what happened. I do remember that in the job I was working when I applied to the academy the first time, once they found out that my app was in, I got the worst assignments in the ICU up until I finally ended up leaving earlier than I planned. Nurses take it personally if some of us no longer want to be one of them. A certain lady told me the other night to NEVER EVER tell anyone about that ever because they will use it against me and now you are the second person telling me that. I slipped at the job and said something to one person who blabbed it around then others read my facebook page too. Now it is removed from my FB page as well.

Sky, I think that’s exactly what happened to me, with the recent Narcissist P woman. She got the skinny on my new business, where I’m headed, etc. She went bonkers. I didn’t think about that being factored into the equation. I think you are spot on! Holy smokes, you’re good!!

Peace out,

LOL! Thanks. Never underestimate the envy of the spath. They envy everything.

Sky and Eden-you are totally correct. They do go bonkers. Nurses do not want to hear about other people who no longer want to do what they do. They totally take it personally. Let’s face it, not all of us are cut out to do that job and I can admit that I’m one of them.

Sky-I loved your advice about visualizing me in my uniform. I spent all day upset that I opened the envelope with their side in it because it frustrated me and stressed me out. I kept thinking-if only I had waited until the day of the hearing to open it. Like usual though, another thought was presented to me. I spent all day having to psych myself into being calm-with all of your help. I talked to someone 🙂 about it this evening and she said OMG NO-it would have been awful if you did that, then you would be all emotional and upset right before the hearing, with NO time to process it. I didn’t want to deal with it on the weekend but she said that I have to because then I will be totally prepared, and if I’m totally prepared, then I won’t be emotionally and I will remain in control-the way I need to be. She recently had a case against someone and she won because she was well prepared and calm.

Sky-they do envy everything. The supervisor who started all this crap with me came to me on one of her Dr. Jekyll days and was all about wanting to know about the shade of the red lipstick was that I was wearing because it does look really good on me. I thanked her and told her the brand and the shade and she came back a couple days later with it. She said “look I’m wearing your lipstick-then she made a face and said, I’m mad though because it doesn’t look as good on me as it does on you.” She had an attitude like it was my fault or something. The fact is that she has a totally different skin tone from me. I knew that it wouldn’t look the same on her because her coloring required different tones, I sure couldn’t tell her that though!

My Gosh, Lizzy… I, myself, am looking most forward to you not having to deal with spathmatics any longer. I can’t wait until Tuesday is done and gone, for you! You are such a good person (it is very apparent in your posts), and you deserve to have only the most pleasant experiences (in abundance). No more crap!


Thanks so much Eden. That’s all I want is for it to be over-then NO MORE spaths in my life-yay! I am just so glad that I don’t have to work there anymore and it has been a relief despite being unemployed for so long.

1 9 10 11

Send this to a friend