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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints,…

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can…

by Kevin Dutton

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The author begins his book by explaining that his own father was a psychopath. On what evidence? It seems that while he was driven to succeed, he was undeterred by failure, and his spirits never sank. If this seems like unsupported reasoning to you, you may find the rest of the book irritating as well. The author consistently uses the two techniques illustrated by his introduction: label anyone who strongly exhibits any trait among the many associated with sociopathic personality disorder as a "psychopath"; and burden every page with sensationalism until it groans. So the early sections of the book explain to us that many surgeons, who are masters of cold precision at the operating table, are psychopaths. Special Forces members, who love danger and seem fearless, are psychopaths. Anyone who succeeds at the difficult and often merciless decisions associated with growing a business is probably a psychopath.

How much more interesting this book would have been if the author had identified himself as a psychopath. I don't know whether he is, although I suspect he could be fit into his own loose definition. Unfortunately, he chooses to present himself as one of the inferior majority, doomed to approaching life with all the usual fears and hesitations. The section where he visits Broadmoor Prison, where universally acknowledged psychopaths are housed, should have been one of the strongest parts of the book, providing a little insight into the mindsets of the most remorseless killers. Instead, the visit is milked for every drop of amateur dramatics, as he describes himself quaking with fear as he gazes into the predator's steely eyes, and so on ad nauseum. It's as clumsy and shallow as a high-schooler's field trip report.

If you can wade through all the crap (the ability to do so being a psychopathic trait), there is value to be had here, particularly in the research studies cited, which you are of course free to Google and learn more about, if your curiosity hasn't been dampened by the predictable and repetitive claims that "what they found was astounding." The raw material that remains visible suggests what a good book about this subject might have been like. ( )
  john.cooper | Jun 21, 2015 |
I'm really too exhausted to do this review justice but I want to write something down while it's still fresh. This was an interesting twist to something that most know little about (myself included) but think do. I'm glad I read Jon Ronson's The Psychopath test first. Because that was the primer I needed about psychopathy to more satisfactorily delve into Kevin Dutton's notions.

Most of the text flowed nicely and was organized well. I rather enjoyed most of the author's interactions with psychopaths; criminal and otherwise. And I was extremely interested when Dutton was able to transform into a psychopath (if only for a few minutes).

What I could have done without is the pseudo-science and seeming esteem for religiosity (particularly with Christianity and Buddhism). The author even used the term "saint" several time as the antithesis of psychopathy. But in actuality, many saints were not nice people and some could have well been psychopaths. The author even made this point by providing a general (and rather positive) synopsis of the so-called Saint Paul; claiming he was likely a highly functional psychopath. That very notion muddies the waters of his oft-used "saint vs. psychopath" dichotomy. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
Strange how one reading one little 220-page book about psychology and the human brain can make all the other philosophy books and great novels in my library seem redundant. This is a fantastic book, entertaining, useful, thought provoking and thought revoking. ( )
1 vote byebyelibrary | Sep 5, 2014 |
Page turner (although I admit I listened to the audio version!) and chokeful of interesting tidbits and examples not just about the exceptionally psychopathic but about all humanity along the spectrum (and not). If you are not at all psychopathic (raises hand) then you will definitely be surprised by the processes going on in the minds of people whose very neurology, not just actions and choices, are so profoundly different and, ultimately, outside your realm of experience (Unless, like the author, you get to try out being a psychopath for an hour!).

Collected all the quotes, as usual. (http://readingz.livejournal.com/346360.html) ( )
  Evalangui | Aug 22, 2014 |
Ken Dutton’s “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” has a lot going for it, and just about as much going the other way. Touching first on the latter, be warned that anyone traumatized by a psychopath will find this book a tough read for that reason alone, as Dutton avoids as much as he can overtly (much less negatively) judging the psychopaths who populate his book. Accordingly, if you’re looking for a book defining psychopaths as only vile, this isn’t the read for you. Further, Dutton’s writing style can grate. What he and his editors seemingly consider wry or clever often clunks rather badly, particularly when he stumbles (many times) transitioning from fairly dry academic data to an attempted lighter touch in interpreting that data for his lay readers.

None of the foregoing detracts from the book’s fascinating glimpses inside the cold machine that is a psychopath’s mind. Via the afore-mentioned data analysis as well as personal interviews in a variety of places where psychopaths hide in plain sight, Dutton considers the (d)evolution of the psychopath from prehistory to present-day. The interviews are the most enlightening of the book’s features. The problem with the interviews, of course, is it’s unknowable whether the inscrutable subjects of Dutton’s scrutiny are telling truth or spinning lie; but then again that’s part of the matter’s intrigue, and the purported "wisdom" referenced in the title.

Everyone knows at least one psychopath. If you think you don’t, that’s only because the psychopath you know lurks behind an appealing façade of charm, stalking the opportune moment to reveal his true, dark colors at the time and place of his choosing. Dutton’s book provides valuable clues to watch out for should the psychopath near you start to lift his mask. After all, you cannot fight what you cannot see. ( )
  RGazala | May 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
The Wisdom of Psychopaths is an engaging and enlightening look at both the positive and negative sides of the personality characteristics that make up the diagnosis of psychopathy. But what [Cambridge University research psychologist] Mr. Dutton really brings to the table is a self-reflective look at what it means to be fully human, with both good and evil capacities.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Michael Shermer (Nov 7, 2012)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374291357, Hardcover)

In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.

Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.

As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.  

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:12 -0400)

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An analysis of what can be learned from psychopaths incorporates advances in brain scanning and neuroscience to illustrate the scale of mental health that impacts everyone, the role of functional psychopathic behaviors in success, and the misunderstandings that impact treatments.… (more)

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