Milgram’s classic book and Zimbardo’s new release

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of tests on behavior in relation to authority in the 1960s at Yale University. In 1974, his findings were published in his groundbreaking and famous book, Obedience to Authority. In college, I read this book and continue to think of it and the importance of these studies. In brief, Milgram found that the vast majority of people would continue to give what they believed were increasingly painful, perhaps even deadly, shocks to another person- even when the person pleaded for them to stop- if an authority figure pushed them to do so. Even when their own conscience intervened and they questioned the authority figure, they continually denied their own inner knowledge that this was wrong and pushed the button to inflict more pain. Recently, the Yale Alumni magazine revisited Milgram’s experiment and its continued relevancy- the article can be read online at

Written by a friend and associate of Milgram’s, Philip Zimbardo connects this experiment with his forthcoming book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Both Zimbardo’s and Milgram’s book can be found in OWL’s collection. Although I have not yet read Zimbardo’s book, I do feel that Obedience to Authority is one of those essential books that must be read. Once you read it, I promise, you will not forget it. I have a suspicion that Zimbardo’s book will also become an essential read particularly as we as a nation try to comprehend and solve the issues of violence facing us like the horrifying incident at Virginia Tech.

Obedience to Authority– Stanley Milgram 303.36 MIL

Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives– edited by Thomas Blass 303.36 BLA

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil– Philip Zimbardo 155.962


Collection Picks: Other books on the related subject in our collection:

People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil– M. Scott Peck 616.89

Understanding Workplace Violence: A Guide for Managers and Employees– Michele Paludi 658.4 PAL

Keeping American Schools Safe: A Handbook for Parents, Students, Educators, Law Enforcement Personnel and the Community– Anne Garrett 371.782 GAR

–Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director of OWL.

2 thoughts on “Milgram’s classic book and Zimbardo’s new release

  1. I agree… Milgram’s study shows how good people can, at least in an immediate sense, do bad things under the pressure of authority. It may not answer the greater cultural questions of the Nazis in WWII, but it certainly points to the power of authority on the individual.

  2. Thanks for point us to this entire body of research. It seems especially pertinent in our world of Virginia Tech and Abu Ghraib. I have read Zimbardo’s article but not his or Milgram’s books.

    Zimbardo’s article makes the point that most good people can be manipulated to do evil by situational forces – but that is most, not all. One nurse out of twenty in his example refused to give an overdose, regardless of the situational forces.

    In addition, he also describes how good people can be trained to do evil routinely.
    That makes me wonder if we can revise our overall educational process with the opposite effect. The result could be a society where people have greater confidence in their own sense of right and are less malleable when confronted with situational forces urging them to do evil.

    I guess, as a prerequisite, we would have to believe that people are capable of changing their behavior and attitudes all for the better.

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