Home



 Dr. Minnich's most recent book, The Evil of Banality: On the life and death importance of thinkingpublished by Rowman & Littlefield, was released Jan. 1, 2017.  The book can be ordered by clicking on the title, above, or from Rowman & Littlefield via Elizabeth's book page on their website as well as from Amazon or your local bookstore. 

Latest review: "This marvelous book deserves a wide readership. Hannah Arendt, Minnich’s mentor, wrote the famous book The Banality of Evil. But what Minnich sees in Arendt’s book, and in her own case studies, is the great evil resulting from thoughtlessness, which is anything but banal. Minnich shows that "not seeing," a certain obtuseness that hides the full reality of what one is doing, is too often cultivated. One of Minnich’s key distinctions is between intensive and extensive evil. The former involves a few people who do monstrous things (the Charles Manson cult). This kind of evil, she argues, can be contained. Extensive evil involves many people going about their lives in ordinary ways, however thoughtlessly, however obtusely, for example, the countless "ordinary Germans" needed to make the Holocaust possible. Because the network is so wide, it is much more difficult to contain. Minich does point out that one also finds intensive goodness (e.g., Oskar Schindler comes to mind), and that extensive goodness remains a possibility. The difference, of course, is that the latter cannot be thoughtless: it must be created with attention and care, no easy task. Written in a personal, lively style, this book a delight to read, even if the cases of extensive evil depress.

Summing Up: Essential. 

  • Reviewer: H. Oberdiek, Swarthmore College
  • Readership Level: General Readers, Lower-division Undergraduates, Upper-division Undergraduates, Graduate Students, Researchers/Faculty, Two-Year Technical Program Students
  • Interdisciplinary Subjects:
  • Subject: Humanities - Philosophy
  • Choice Issue: aug 2017 vol. 54 no. 12

Here is one description, along with three endorsements: 

Dr. Elizabeth K. Minnich was Hannah Arendt's teaching assistant when Arendt was defending her book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann ("The Engineer of the Nazi 'Final Solution' ") in which Arendt announced her then-controversial observation about "the banality of evil." In the years since then, while being a professor of philosophy (moral, political) and publishing on other subjects, Minnich has continued reflecting on, researching, and writing about her own reversal of Arendt's controversial concept: the evil of banalityThis book presents her findings, moving through Arendt's concept to consider further examples of extensive evils such as slavery and human trafficking; economic exploitation;  for-profit penitentiaries and deportation centers; and more historical and international examples. Minnich also considers explanations of the 'how' and 'why' of extensive evils by social psychologists and historians such as Milgram and Zimbardo whose good work on obedience to authority and peer pressure she challenges. The book is vivid, filled with examples, and accessible even as it is grounded in a philosopher's moral and political resources.   Most of all, Minnich invites readers to think with her about what she considers perhaps the moral challenge of our age:  the reality that it takes many, many ordinarily decent people doing their jobs reliably for the extensive evils of genocide, slavery, et al – those that persist over time, that become 'normalized' – to be possible at all. And she also discusses extensive good, the people and ways of acting that are also always present as we learn to resist, to turn back, extensive evils.

 The following "blurbs" are excerpted with permission from scholars' evaluative reviews requested.

 Reviewer # 1:

"Evil of Banality" is a subtle, original contribution to a literature that attempts to make sense of people’s evil-doings. The book approaches its main question, which it sets as guiding a years-long personal quest for an answer, from an Arendtian observation of Eichmann, which is that a necessary condition of evildoing is thoughtlessness. It refines this observation with Camus’ existentialist observations of choice. And it narrates an answer to its question using many and different examples, reflecting on them, and drawing conceptual distinctions that illuminate what banality is and how it is related to evil. (Dr. Bat-Ami Bar On)

Reviewer #2: This is a brilliant, wonderfully written, and tightly argued book. The key concepts of intensive v. extensive evil and intensive v. extensive good are exceptionally useful tools for sorting through the ethical dimensions of ordinary lives in a way that puts all of us on notice that it is simply not sufficient to use categories of the “unthinkable" to distance ourselves from learning to think well, both separately and together. (Dr. Sara Evans)

Reviewer #3:While I believe it is an ever-present possibility that books can actually make us better people, I see it as quite rare that they either try to or are successful in doing so: I am convinced that this one can.

The book is highly original. In part, it is original because it takes up Arendt’s thinking about morality, which is all too often overlooked because of the power of her political insights. Part of what makes this book so successful, what makes it the kind of thing that might reach more people than Arendt did, is due to the tone and voice, which is mature, humane and wise. I am absolutely convinced that this is going to be read very widely, and loved dearly as a way to help us make sense of our world, ourselves and our actions. (Dr. Stephen Schulman)

Link to interview with Elizabeth on the American Philosophical Association Blog

• She has also published the second edition of her award-winning book, Transforming Knowledge. To order the book, click on the book cover image or Go Here.

• Among recent recent book events:  92 St Y, NYC, a book conversation (with Brad lander, NY City Councilmember, interlocutor); keynote for the International Society for the Study of Teaching & Learning, Norway; "Community conversation and readings" at public libraries and a "Peace and Justice Center" in New England; interview on WGDR FM, "Peace Rising" show; conference sessions at Society for Values in Higher Education, AAC&U.  

• In 2005 she co-authored with Si Kahn, The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracypublished by Berrett-Kohehler. Order it from Berrett-Koehler

                                                            *****

Dr. Elizabeth Minnich is an educator, scholar and professor of philosophy, public speaker, award-winning author, administrator, consultant, thinker, editor. She is a Distinguished Fellow at the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Those roles partly define both her work and her life. Dr. Minnich is also a change agent who has dedicated her career to transformational development in education and democratic practices. 

Her list of published writing and accolades is long and her commitment to transforming thinking and learning is deep.  


These works can be dowloaded: 

"Why Not Lie?" in "Soundings," Winter 1985, Vol. LXVII, No. 4

"Arendt, Heidegger, Eichmann: Thinking in and for the World" in "Soundings," Spring/Summer 2003, Vol. LXXXVI, No. 1-2

"To judge in freedom: Hannah Arendt on the relation of thinking and morality," in Hannah Arendt: Thinking, Judging, Freedom, Ed. by Kaplan and Kessler. Allen & Unwin, London: 1989, page 133-143

"The evil of banality: Arendt revisited," in "Arts & Humanities in Higher Education," Feb. 2014, Vol. 13 (1-2).  Sage publisher: available on line, ahh.sagepub.com (DOI: 10.1177_1474022213513543

"Teaching Thinking: Moral and Political Considerations,", a 650k PDF file of a widely-discussed essay published in "Change," September/October (2003), pp 19-24. 

Download an interview with Dr. Minnich concerning engaged education for democracy in the Kettering Foundation's Higher Education Exchange: HEX Interview, a 1.9 mb PDF file.  Here is a link to the Kettering Foundation website.

Identity, Liberal Learning, Democracy: Reflections, featured in "Diversity & Democracy," Volume 13, Number 2 (2010). The link above takes you to the essay on the Diversity and Democracy website. If you would like to download a PDF version, click here.

An October 2004 keynote address by Dr. Minnich published in Issues in Integrative Studies is available for download by clicking on the title: "Reflections on the Wellsprings of Interdisciplinary Studies and Transformative Education" (231k PDF file). 


CLICK ON "WRITING" ON LEFT SIDEBAR FOR MORE WRITINGS THAT CAN BE DOWNLOADED. 

On this site you will also find selected quotations from her many publications  to invite you to think with her if you will. Please let us know what you think about what you read here.