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 Amazon.com.

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107 Comments on "Book Review: Evil Genes"

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Wow, I read up on the Wiki page for this book a long time ago. It sounded pretty good. I think I was reading up on personality disorders when I saw the link to it.

What is the difference between Sociopathic and Machiavellian? Looks like I need to do some research. :/

Anway, sounds great! I might get it, as I just finished Robert Hare’s books and need some stuff to read.

Machiavelli was a man who wrote a book centuries ago about basically how evil people work/think/act…and so an evil person who has ulterior motives is labeled Machiavellian. Here is a link to a better description http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machavellian

Anyway, Dr. Oakley refers to psychopaths not only as “psychopaths” but also as “successfully sinister” and as “Machiavellian” pretty much interchangeably. She shows how that though these people are EVIL and sinister to the max, they also have charm and in some cases smarts and guile and history has placed some of them in a spot that they can take advantage of their Machiavellian traits and put them in a position to take advantage of this to let their EVIL aspects prosper to the maximum, such as Hitler, Mao, and Stalin leading to the misery of tens of millions and the deaths of even more millions.

While her sister, Carolyn, was Machiavellian and sinister in a more personal and intimate way, only with those closest to her, rather than like Mao, whose evil spread to hundreds of millions in one way or another, there are still things in common between Carolyn and Mao. Both Carolyn and Mao were blessed at birth with the genetic possibility to become Machiavellian, and something in their environment pushed them in that direction. Not to say that neither Carolyn or Mao was FORCED or had no FREE WILL, but because the gasoline of genetics and the fire of environment came together, they both became toxic people without the ability to love, without empathy for others, and at that point there was no “going back” No Fixing them.

Ox Drover: Ohhhhh! I’ll read up on it. I think I saw some author on here write something too, involving a dark triad and some such. I remember now!

I also wanted to thank you again, Ox Drover. For teaching me. I’ll check Wiki more from now on, but I still like your opinion on stuff. I know I can’t trust everything I read online, but I think I can here. 😛

I read somewhere online that George Bush jr. may have been a sociopath. He would fit into the sociopath with power category if so. In fact, I think most politicians in power may all be shady and not to be trusted. I know that sounds paranoid, but I still feel this way about cops, politicians, judges and the like.

So no fixing them, huh. If they miss out on the ability to love early on. I remember Liane Leedom’s site about this ability and children. They have choices, but influences from their genetics are pushing on them, like gravity. I get it now. Nice post.


Didn’t you mention this book before on another thread when you were in the middle of reading it saying you were going to do a review on it?

I’m excited about this book. It seems intriguing!


Dear LL, Yep, I sure did. After I read her first book that I got I got so excited about it that I ordered this one, and she has another one coming out in August and I can’t wait!!!! This woman writes so WELL and she is so SMART and SHE GETS IT! Her sister Carolyn (dead now) was definitely an evil woman…..and part of Oakley’s desire to learn about Psychopaths and evil people is to learn about what made her sister the way she was.

Oakley is a bioengineer and she takes information from several different experts, from DNA experts to psychologists etc and weaves it all together so that there comes out a tapestry that we can see a picture of the “evil people” (whatever you want to call them.)

In this book she looks at Borderline Personality Disorder as well, which seems to be more the “diagnosis” of females than psychopathy, but looks at ALL the personality disorders as points on a continuum rather than separate types of “animals’—like they may all be “canines” and some are lap dogs and wiener dogs and some are wolves and everything in between, but they are ALL canines so there are some things in common that they all have.

Her two books have been some of the most interesting reading on personality disordered people that I have read…and I’ve got about 10+ feet of shelf space just in my office now. She makes it where anyone can understand what she is saying. I do recommend this woman’s writing.

Hey, I just noticed that Donna put me up as a “love fraud author” and listed most of my articles! WOW! I am honored! If you wanna see my pix and a pix of my favorite ox “Jim” (before you ask, he is a Scottish Highland steer and that pix was made at a Scottish Festival where I took him for “show and tell.”)

Ox Drover: Congrats on becoming an author! You’re definitely the most active person here, it seems. Jim is HUGE! Ah, I’ll stick to my small Beagles. 😛

Yea, Jim was my baby, and yes he was HUGE…he got even bigger than that! I only have 3 old “pet cows” now and one heifer that is not a “pet” just hasn’t gone to the butcher yet, but I enjoy looking at them, they are beautiful.

You wrote a great reply under “After the sociopath” and I feel like this post is a crossover, belongs there and here.

I read all I could about this book. It sound like exactly a great read for me, needing to step back from being so empathetic. Never thought about it, always thought of empathy as my gift to connect with my humanity. But, maybe I am TOO connected and a little distance and perspective will be of GREAT benefit to me. Maybe my empathy is in the way of my success??

Do you buy these books and decide to write a review? I just wondered how you found them. B/c you are VERY good and if your review isn’t listed on Amazon, it should be. Your wisdom would be such an asset for general public just as long as you don’t call them into LF!! (Boy if there is a place for trolls, they are in the reviews on Amazon.)

Anyhoo, thanks for the review, You have convinced me to read this book and maybe I will have another life epiphany!!

ps I see your name and list of articles but where is the pic of Jim?

I’ve never really considered oxen “cute” before ( given, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one up close in real life, except maybe at the zoo? which is probably unlikely since oxen aren’t really kept in zoos), but that’s a cute ox, Oxy! haha. What a beautiful coat he has.


This is so weird…but that’s exactly how I pictured you!!! Talk about being perceptive!!! You look awesome!!!

Your story is sad though, but you have SURVIVED and are a fantastic person!! 🙂


I am a “read-a-holic” and I read mostly non-fiction, history, medical stuff and stuff about psychopathy or the brain….and so if a book is brought to my attention on NPR (which is where I generally listen to the radio when I drive) or I google something and something pops up that I think might be interesting, I order it used off amazon or B&N….and sometimes friends recommend books as well. I just finished a really neat fiction book sent to me by a friend.

I just started one called “The Brain that changes itself” by Norman Doidge, M. D. that looks like it might be a good one, and I’ve read others about how trauma CHANGES our brains physically as well as chemically so maybe this will have some ideas about how we can HEAL our brains from those traumas.

The NY Times reviewer said “The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility” so will see what I think about the book, just started it today when it got too hot for an old woman to be working outside. LOL

Nancy and Louise—thank you, Jim was “cute” and a sweet heart too. The many layers of period clothing make me look pregnant though, but I wanted to include at least one of the oxen in my picture since I’ve been “ox drover” on here for so long.

Oxy! I gotta see Jim. I am a cow lover. But I am not seeing the link. Help!

Katy-I read on FB today that if you go into Chik-fila-A this weekend dressed like a cow from head to toe then you get a free meal. Damn I got rid of my old Mardi Gras costume-I was a cow one year and I had utters and everything!

katy, the link is under the heading “Pages”… it’s called Authors of the Lovefraud Blog right above the small icon of Donna’s book ( Lovefraud )

Lizzy, maybe I should load up one of the girls and take her in on a lead rope and see if she can get a free meal! She wouldn’t eat it, except the bread, she loves bread!!!! I could eat the rest! Let’s see them try to take her “costume” off! LOL

Well, probably have too much salt in [email protected] Oh, well….too hot to take the girls out of the pond this time of year…..they stay in the pond most of the day and come out at night to eat.

I love cows too-they are sweet animals. We lived across the lake from New Orleans in the country when we were yound and we knew these people with a dairy farm. We used to go over and ride the cows when they came out the barn after milking. We would climb on one as it was leaving out and ride it into the field. The cows didn’t care-they were nice.

I loved my costume too-it was cute-I even wore a bell around my neck. My mom has a pic somewhere of me dancing in the costume and it was pretty silly.

where i used to live they had an all species parade every year on the summer solstice. cow costume was typical. i LOVE the cow commercials with holsteins from wisconsin standing in snow trying to get away to california. our cows were slaves to the grain. put grain in a bucket and they’d follow you anywhere.

Oooh Oxy. That’s a HEELLAND COO! I am so impressed. And you gotta sexy look goin’ on girlie. A little of the milkmaid…. 🙂

I just saw Oxy and Jim-it’s SO cute!! :):)

Thanks! How are you today?

Better. I talked to my dad and my girl took me for a beer and we talked it over. I am just starting to realize that I may not get a full time nursing job and I may pass the test in August for the dispatcher job and get that. I am still stressing over the hearing coming up on Tuesday cuz I know the spaths are gonna lie through their teeth and under oath so they can win. I am following my counselors advice and telling myself that it’s time to cut off the worry for this evening and not allow myself to do it. She tells me to allow myself only a certain amount of time to worry about things and then to shut it off and not let myself do it until the next day.

Lizzy, good advice from your counselor! Who is “my girl” that you keep talking about?

It’s not a girlfriend but if I say who it is then I will get busted for it. I am trying to keep that topic quiet.

Liz, out with it!
You’re already BUSTED!!!!
Boink her Oxy!

Seriously, Liz, are you two an item? or still just friends?
Take it slow please. You know the rules.

friends and stop it!


Oxy – ‘my girl’ is the neighbour that lizzy said was a spath, and frigid, and horrible, etc.

erin – I totally don’t get you. i mean seriously, i don’t get you. you said these things, and mooned over her, and there you are again. i can’t trust you now – because you are either delusional or stoopid. or both. i have always treated you with respect. always posted to you – and i am not mad at you, i just can’t believe this crap – and that you want us to be cool with it. I TOTALLY don’t get it.

you can talk to me, and challenge, etc. i don’t care. but you called this woman a spath., so YOU need to own up here – to you delusion, your denial, your pain of rejection (as to why you called her ALL those names).

I was kidding with you Liz, I hope you know that.
I’m kindof in a nutty mood tonight, sorry. If you want me to delete anything, I will.

Nah, Sky, I’m not gonna hit Lizzy at least until she gets a new job she likes, right now her head is too tender, too many people taking pot shots at her, she doesn’t need me boinking her! 🙂

Glad you guys like the pix of my Jim! He was definitely a great “Heeland boy”

My son C said about my dressing like that “Mom, it makes you look like a FAT GERMAN 19th century HOUSE WIFE” and he was right I guess. LOL Though actually more correct for a Scottish housewife. LOL

Skylar-you don’t have to delete anything-I’m teasing. Good night everyone.

Wow Oxy…. So sweet…You and your ox are so addorable. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to view this sweet photo of you. It is interesting how we picture people to appear a certain way, physically, based on what we hear or read from them. I pictured you to look a bit different. You look so gentle, but sound so tuff! Of course I don’t mean tough in a bad way. I mean tough in a way that I aim to be, someday, down the road. As wise and as tough! Thank’s for the great book review. I have been in process of reading Cold Blooded Kindness. It is taking me an unusually long time to get through, as I have been much too busy, and not giving myself enough time to just read, for me, these days. I am definitely going to read Evil Genes, next!

Much Love,

Dear Eden, I think both of these books have a great deal to add to our understanding of psychopathy and other personality disorders as well as altruism and people who FAKE altruism as well. The main character in the “Cold blooded kindness” is in my mind a very typical psychopath who in reality is a user and abuser, but FAKES being altruistic…she isn’t much of a “successful” psychopath because in the end she shoots herself in the foot and gets caught and convicted. She does, however, trauma bond some of her family to her which many of the psychopaths are able to do.

Also I think Dr. Oakley is a heck of a writer and one smart cookie. I anxiously await her next book out due in August I think.

When you get done reading the book, I would like you to write a redux review of it as well and give us your opinion of it. (seriously)

Hi Eden!
How did your day go?

Ok, Thanks Ox! I definitely will. I love writing. It is one thing I do very well. And I have never written a book review, before. It will be a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to give in some way to all of you. I have been taking so much from here, and I have a tendancy to feel as though, I don’t give back enough. I want to be effective in the healing of others, however possible and to give back as much as I have taken from this site.

You are so right! Dr Oakly is so smart. She is so deeply aware of so much. I am amazed at what different perspectives I am gaining from reading Cold Blooded Kindness. I am glad my eyes have been opened to areas/aspects of things that I had not had such an understanding of, prior.

Thanks, Ox!


Hi Sky,

Very well, thanks! Yours? I am just too busy, and I think that if I don’t hire an assistant, soon, I am going to burst. But very greatful to have more work than I know what to do with. Things got a bit hairy (sp?) there for a minute. a real nail biter of a situation at times. Now the opposite. I now understand the term “Be careful what you wish for” : )

Kiss Kiss,

Um, Eden?

Pic of ox with an ox? WHERE?



None of your successes surprises me in the least, particularly if they are BOUNTIFUL for you!


Run with it, chica.


I love you, LL !! You’re good for the soul, and lots of other things. Just very special, you are. Yes there is an ADORABLE photo of Ox with her beautiful ox. Click on LF Authors or Authors on LF? Scroll up… on left of screen! So awesome!


Eden, I’m glad you got it under control. As I knew you could!
You’ve got it together woman! TOWANDA!

My day was really laid back. Still recovering from the hives or allergies or whatever it was.

I need to read “Cold Blooded Kindness” and the “Evil Genes.”

Congrats Oxy on the listing! I’ve been enjoying your writing for a long time!
Love the pix! Adorable. The book sounds so interesting, I need a good book to read.

Hi everyone!

Sky… So sorry to hear that you’re still experiencing your allergy symptoms. I am saying prayers that you will have tons of relief, very soon! E


Yes, you must read them. I am also wanting to read one that LL has been telling me to read, from day one, here. It is called “Women Who Love Psychopaths”, I believe. I think this could be very profound for me, personally. ….Much Love, Eden

Hi Eden! Glad to hear you are feeling better and that
you are so busy!! Keep up the good work!! 😀

Thanks, Supah Chic! How are you doing? Hope all is going great! I still think about how fun it would be to go line dancing out your way, sometime. I would really love to. I learned when I emulated Pee Wee Herman, and went on a trip to see the Alamo in Texas, on a whim, with my little red napsack, and all. But that was about 20 some odd years ago, so I would definitely deed to do some brushing up, I’m sure… HEE HEE… Well, I am off to ZZZZZZ land.
So glad to run into you, here! Much love to you! E

Hi superchic and Eden,
how are you. I am doing much better now. thanks for all your caring advice.
we will survive and not lets these deceivers win.


With all the stories of the farm, that is the MOST appropriate pic. Jim? LOL! You have such cute names for your “pets”. Don’t you have a couple of donkeys too with hysterical names?

I love the pic!


The donkeys are Fat Ass and Hairy Ass….Jim was named because for some reason my grandfather named all his bulls “Jim” if he had more than one they might be Big Jim and Little Jim , or Red Jim and Black Jim,m but always “Jim”—so I named every bull (all registered) born on this place some form of “Jim” but this steer (Neutered-male) was just plain “Jim.” He was half of the first pair of young steers I trained as oxen. The other half, “Red Jim” got the bad habit of kicking, and that got him sent to the slaughter house because “I ain’t having nuttin” bigger AND meaner than I am that is trying to hurt me on this farm. So since Jim didn’t have a yoke mate (it is difficult to work a single oxen) he kind of ended up a big pet and I took him to the Scottish Festivals for “show and tell” til he got too big for even that.

Good morning LF


ROFLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I knew it was something hilarious!! LOL!

Do you still have Jim? Are the cows or oxen you have left, permanent pets or are they slaughter house bound eventually too?

do you name your duckies too?


Hey Lizzy!

How ya feelin this morning?


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