Bookmarks Issue: 
David Buss

Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill

A-MurdererNextDoorIt’s shocking, but true: People who seem to be perfectly normal commit most murders. As many as 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have entertained at least one homicidal fantasy. What pushes some of us over the edge? Drawing upon an FBI database of more than 400,000 murders and reasoning from a detailed study of 400, evolutionary psychologist Buss explains the high-risk situations that can put each of us in jeopardy of either killing or being killed. His general theory of homicide involves specialized mental adaptations that evolved in prehistoric times and explains why even crimes of passion are rooted in logic.
Penguin. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1594200432

San Antonio Exp News 3 of 5 Stars
"Unnerving as it sounds, his research reveals the great majority of men and women have had at least one vivid fantasy about killing someone. The theory doesn’t hold up for some sociologists and psychologists who say that, while violence and killing are part of human nature through history and people might kill to survive, social experiences and pathology are major factors in murder." Marina Pisano

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As Buss unveils the subtleties of his theory—debunking traditional explanations for domestic violence, for example—his contravening of the conventional wisdom on murder shows promise of becoming the new conventional wisdom." Steve Weinberg

Austin Amr-Statesman 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The Murderer Next Door does invite a multitude of questions that Buss fails to address. … Buss doesn’t exactly ignore the question of why so few of us act on our murderous thoughts, but he gives short shrift to the notion that, in addition to our drive to murder, we are also driven by the urge not to murder." Jeff Salamon

Wall Street Journal 1 of 5 Stars
"Prof. Buss is no lightweight; he is the author of the definitive textbook on evolutionary origins of human behavior. But the notion that killing women is a winning evolutionary strategy is lousy biology." Sharon Begley

Critical Summary

Reviewers with scientific training have no kind words for The Murderer Next Door. The author’s investiture in the controversial field of evolutionary psychology—which posits that human behavior is the product of evolution—leads him to assert that homicidal fantasies are more common than the reader might believe, and smacks of self promotion. While Buss’s argument is internally consistent, his premise runs counter to established anthropological and biological studies. Readers unversed in those sciences might receive Buss’s claims about homicide’s roots more openly, and find them both credible and disturbing.

Supplemental Reading

Without Conscience The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us | Robert D. Hare (2001): Well, if not all minds are designed to kill, here’s a look at a group of minds that comes pretty close.