Packaging evil as splatter-pulp There's got to be more to it than this, says Pete Davies

The Evil that Men Do by Brian Masters Doubleday, pounds 16.99: Harmful neurotics, silly saints and nasty passages from the classics.

Readers expecting a gorefest will be disappointed. The packaging's all there - the doomy pomp of the title, the jacket with the disembodied mad eyes on a ground of blood-red, the praise for Masters' previous work on Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen - but don't be fooled. This is philosophy here, this is a dig into the deep matter of why we do bad stuff. This is "an incisive, thoughtful, and provocative meditation...''

And I'm the King of Buganda. Sloppy, self-regarding, banal, this book is the intellectual equivalent of open-cast mining; foraging across a mountain of other people's ideas, it may unearth an incontestable conclusion, but it doesn't half trash the landscape along the way. It reaches its nadir with a perfunctory account of the Holocaust lifted wholesale from Martin Gilbert - but there is laziness throughout.

It won't do to warn against unthinking simplifications, and then to claim that pit-bull owners "are all, to a man, feeble brutes''. You cannot describe Joan of Arc as "arguably a harmful neurotic'', and yet say sixty pages later that "there was nothing of the hysteric about her''. It's patently nonsense on any page to proclaim that "there are dozens of St Francises in all our lives''. Other statements are simply risible. Audrey Hepburn had "more spunk'' than Jesus? Penelope Keith is in "the dominant five per cent of the human race''? As for the author's announcement that, "it is certainly true that men ... sometimes slap their mates across the face'' with their penises, I'm afraid at that point I had to drop the book helpless with laughter, afflicted with surreal visions of a pack of Loaded readers indulging in horseplay in the public bar.

Even properly construed, it's a peculiar image, but some of Brian Masters's other remarks are pretty peculiar too. His contention that we hear more about child abuse than its incidence warrants sits ill with his apparent downgrading of some of it to mere "silly sexual play''; his solution for the hysteric presumptions of St Theresa of Lisieux, that "she ought to have been spanked'', is at best carelessly brusque. More mundanely, his cod-behavioural description of a row in the kitchen ("the husband has disordered materials on the wife's territory'') is woefully hackneyed - but if you can extrapolate from nature that "the appropriate behaviour of the female is to yield and submit'', then the charge (to put this mildly) that you're not really up to speed on today's gender front cannot be far behind.

Masters's attitudes are an odd mishmash all round; he lurches without blinking from the hearteningly liberal to the sweepingly obtuse . Righteously dismissive of the nastier shades of modern Conservatism, he argues passionately and persuasively that no moral system can be complete if it doesn't accord rights to animals as much as to people. Yet the next moment he's declaring that "Christianity is morally unwholesome'' or making opaque remarks about the similarity between the gentlemen's clubs of London and communities of greylag geese.

This last has little more purpose than to let us know he's a club member himself - and the fact that he went to the same school as Michael Caine (not to mention his fawning paragraph about Richard Branson) is similarly irrelevant to his supposed subjects, namely good and evil. As to them, he trawls through genetics, determinism, Darwin, Sartre, religion, madness and much more besides, in order to finally tell us that if we all thought a little more about what we did, the world would be a better place.

Not only incontestable, this conclusion is also bogglingly obvious - and it would bear more weight if Masters had done more thinking himself. This is a writer, however, who tells us that he finds the burning out of the Cyclops' eye in the Odyssey "unquotably nasty'', yet who can still give us specific detail on the Wakefield man who tore his wife's face apart with his bare hands, or the Californian killer who ripped his victim's nipples off with a pair of pliers. When you can be inconsistent like that, all claims to high intent fall away; evil's just an itch, all Masters does is scratch it, and for all the results are worth, Doubleday might as well have given us the splatter-pulp package.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism