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Obedience to Authority summary

Stanley Milgram

The Experiment That Challenged Human Nature

4.6 (38 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

'Obedience to Authority' by Stanley Milgram explores the results of his famous experiment which demonstrated humans' tendency to obey authority, even if it leads to harm. The book delves into the implications of this phenomenon.

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    Obedience to Authority
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    Obeying authority has led to some of the most heinous crimes in human history.

    Think back to your younger years. When teachers told you to be quiet, or your parents told you to take out the trash, did you do it? If so, you obeyed. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Obedience to authority, however, is not always harmless.

    Indeed, obedience is at the heart of many atrocities, including every massacre and genocide.

    The genocide of millions of Jews during the Holocaust, for example, was carried out by people who were following orders and obeying the regime.

    While some brave souls tried to fight against these mass murders, most Germans didn’t resist Hitler’s government, which massacred so many people in concentration camps that the corpses formed piles as high as small hills.

    Then there was the Vietnam War, during which the United States incinerated innocent civilians with napalm bombs while soldiers raped and murdered women and children. When these soldiers returned, however, they claimed to be innocent.

    But how could they claim that after committing such terrible deeds? They were “just following orders.”

    The uncritical obedience to a higher authority is evident in most disasters in human history. Whether it’s the Nazi soldiers or an average person next door, if a person perceives someone else as an authority, they will follow their orders and commit almost any atrocity, while still denying responsibility for their deeds.

    And yet, most people would say that they’d never harm another human being. After examining some historical atrocities, most of us would claim that we’d never act on the command to kill or harm someone.

    We erroneously place trust in our “superior” morals and ethical standards, along with the trust in our own humanity, to save us from turning into the cruel beasts that will do whatever they’re told.

    Without some sort of scientific reference point, it’s hard to say how cruel we might become under the pressures of authority. This is where the author and his experiments on obedience enter the stage.

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    What is Obedience to Authority about?

    Obedience to Authority (1974) explores some of the darker elements of the human mind. It addresses tough issues, like why we follow orders and how far we’ll go when commanded to do something. With the author’s own seminal experiments as a backdrop, you’ll learn how even the most upright people can turn into cruel monsters under certain conditions.

    Obedience to Authority Review

    Obedience to Authority (1974) is a thought-provoking exploration of the power dynamics between individuals and authority figures. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With meticulous research and compelling experiments, it sheds light on the dark side of human obedience, highlighting the potential dangers that blind obedience can pose.
    • Illustrating the impact of authority in a variety of settings, from everyday situations to the ultimate extreme of the Holocaust, it prompts readers to question their own capacity for obedience.
    • By delving into the psychological mechanisms at play and the ethical implications of obedience, this book challenges our understanding of human behavior and fosters critical thinking.

    Who should read Obedience to Authority?

    • Anyone who wants to know why soldiers unquestioningly commit atrocities
    • Amateur or professional students of psychology
    • People willing to take a look into the dark corners of the human psyche

    About the Author

    Stanley Milgram remains one of the most important and influential scientists in social psychology. His famous “Milgram Experiment” at Yale University has made its way into psychology and popular science books around the world.

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    Obedience to Authority FAQs 

    What is the main message of Obedience to Authority?

    Obedience to Authority explores the dark side of human nature and the power of authority to influence our actions.

    How long does it take to read Obedience to Authority?

    The reading time for Obedience to Authority varies, but it can be read in a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Obedience to Authority a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Obedience to Authority is a thought-provoking book that sheds light on important psychological phenomena. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Obedience to Authority?

    Obedience to Authority is written by Stanley Milgram.

    What to read after Obedience to Authority?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Obedience to Authority, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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