Book Review: The Wisdom of Psychopaths

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(Sorry about the poor picture quality.) I decided to review this book because it taught me a great deal, painlessly, and because it’s the only book in a long time that I want to follow up by making a reading list from the end notes. The end notes, by the way, are well written and often interesting. There are no indicators for them in the text, so I had to follow along by page number.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, by Kevin Dutton (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012; ISBN 978-0-374-29135-8) is about exactly what the title says, the wisdom of psychopaths.

Kevin Dutton has made the study of psychopaths his life’s work, and it shows in the easy way he handles his subject matter. His comfort zone with people who, in most of our minds, are always dangerous, surprised me. He excels at simplifying some very complex ideas by finding logical ways to proceed from one point to another without bogging down in excess detail, ego, or side issues. He does not “dumb it down,” though. A reading level appropriate to a high-school senior and some level of “general” knowledge will help the reader absorb the stories and studies.

I cannot say that one part of this is better than another, which is unusual for me. The most fascinating part for the student of the human mind in me is surely the “Make Me a Psychopath” chapter. However, the chapters before that define and illuminate this important subject (saints?), and they give a context that I suspect most of us need to understand the experience given there. The chapters following that experience are surprisingly practical. They give clear examples and ideas of the wisdom of psychopaths. This is at least a good read, and potentially a “lights come on” moment, for my literate friends.

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