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Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us Hardcover – October 13, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press; 1 edition (October 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594630836
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594630835
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Mary Ellen O’Toole is my hero! In Dangerous Instincts she offers sound advice and fascinating examples gleaned from her long career in the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI. This book will save many lives—including, quite possibly, your own. Whether the knowledge you find herein saves you from a con man, a rapist, a thief, a killer, or just a miserable marriage, this is a classic, valuable book. I recommend it highly to all my family, friends, and readers.” Ann Rule, author of THE STRANGER BESIDE ME

“A masterful and compelling primer on survival in a world in which people are not always what we think them to be. Dr. O’Toole’s deep understanding of the nature and implications of psychopathy. . . is particularly impressive, and shared by only a few other criminal investigators. This is an important and well-written book on topics of concern to everyone. A great read, highly recommended.”

Robert Hare, Ph.D., author of WITHOUT CONSCIENCE

“In this absorbing read, [O’Toole] discusses why people trusted Bernie Madoff and Ted Bundy and dissects online dating responses and typical blind spots. The author helps readers analyze their decision-making patterns and provides a guide for helping them to assess and mitigate risk. O’Toole’s book will provide insight to everyone, but it’s particularly helpful for women living alone, parents concerned about their children’s safety, or employers worried about perplexing employee behavior.”

Library Journal --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mary Ellen O'Toole, PhD, retired from the FBI in 2009. She lectures at the Smithsonian, and frequently speaks all over the world.
Alisa Bowman is the coauthor of six New York Times best- sellers.
Visit dangerousinstincts.com.

Customer Reviews

Very informative book and most interesting.
I hope this is not a prevailing opinion in law enforcement, but somehow I suspect it is.
I will make sure my own daughter reads this book.
Brette Sember

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Mike on October 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is really eye-opening. It's only a 1 in 8 million chance that a serial killer will come to your door, but clearly the chance you will meet, date, or work with a criminal or dangerous person is much higher than that. I don't really worry about being hacked into pieces or locked in a basement dungeon, but I think we all know someone who has been attacked, swindled, physically or emotionally abused, etc. because they or someone else didn't see the warning signs.

I've certainly let strangers in my house on the basis of a uniform or a friendly voice, and I usually put a lot of trust in my first impression when meeting someone. But this book shows you a lot of simple things you can do that will give you insight into what's really going on. I'm pretty easy-going and certainly won't use all the advice the authors give, but there's a lot of useful stuff in there. And just in case Ted Bundy shows up at my door, I'm a little more prepared!
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Brette Sember on November 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is eye-opening. Many of things that we rely on to make decisions about other people are completely flawed. In short, our instincts are often wrong. It's frightening once you realize how "off" they really are. O'Toole offers a complete guide to changing how you think, evaluate others, and make everyday decisions which could have potentially devastating consequences. She provides excellent tips for how to evaluate people, interview people (such as for a job as a nanny or babysitter, or even as a painter), and how to read them. The 'rules' we have been taught to follow are often wrong and can often lead us into danger, and O'Toole points out all of the ways we open ourselves to danger.

I really appreciate the advice in this book, which helps you get inside your own decision-making process and retool it so that it will protect you and your family. This is also just a great read if you ever wondered about serial killers and psycopaths. O'Toole is an expert and offers fascinating vignettes about the criminals she personally worked with, as well as cases she worked on involving missing children. Be sure to read the section that compares how TV profilers do things versus how REAL profilers do things. It's revealing!

Some reviews have focused on the serial killer aspect. O'Toole is not telling us how to avoid serial killers (which are rare), but instead how to spot anyone who poses potential danger - especially things like theft, assault, breaking and entering, and other common crimes. In short, this is a primer for learning to be a better evaluator of others.

This is an important book for everyone to read, but I also think it ought to be required reading for young people heading off to college or to their own apartments. I will make sure my own daughter reads this book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra Grabbe on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you are curious about whether crime shows on television are accurate in their portrayal of FBI profilers and why you should not rely on gut feelings, get yourself a copy of Dangerous Instincts. The author, a retired profiler, shares tips on how to stay safe and mitigate risk. I run an inn on Cape Cod. I picked up Dangerous Instincts thinking the book might provide insight on ways to scope out strangers, in this case, our guests. We receive people we don't know all the time. They knock at the door. I open it and welcome them inside. What we have in common is a prior engagement, an appointment, a set meeting. But I have already decided from earlier contact, often an exchange of several emails, whether a person is someone I want in my house or not. Yes, I choose them based on gut feelings. There is no other way to do it. While psychopaths could visit the inn, usually there are people here, like my husband, which does not present the ideal scenario for any serious wrongdoing. Still, as I was reading, it occurred to me that my younger self could have really used this book. I have not met any psychopaths, but at least one pathological liar did cross my path and influence my life. My elder daughter would have been made better choices of men to date if she had read Dangerous Instincts. I'm going to get a copy for my daughter-in-law, who is always worrying about sex offenders in her neighborhood. She will love the Resource List. I found the chapter about interviews particularly worthwhile and came away knowing to pay attention to what is not said. This book provides no-nonsense advice on how to stay safe in life. I came away with a better understanding of the behavior of both strangers and intimates.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gargamel on January 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is about three things: 1) make you think twice about how to place trust; 2) read some FBI stories; 3) know how to "connect" with people and have them open up to you (so you can decide whether to place trust, or so claims the author).

#1 was mostly old news: as a 40-year-old parent I've "been there, done that" many, many times (and of course have my share of scars). Perhaps this book is more directed to the young (e.g., college students, twenty-something parents) or the immature (a perfectly legitimate audience). But yes, the author is quite right that people place way too much trust on others sometimes, especially when it comes to their children's welfare. I can see how a book on this subject could be very useful to share with your about-to-leave-the-home child. I do hope there are better books out there on the subject, though (more on this later).

#2 I couldn't care for; obviously the author has interviewed very famous psychopaths, but the stories were more about bragging ("look, I've seen it all") than anything else. I have to read a lot in my line of work and have no patience for this style. I also question the actual need to involve these stories in the book. But, maybe you'll enjoy it.

#3 was useful enough. I deal with a lot of different people at work, and although I have an intuition as to how to go about a lot of what the book says, it was good to see it articulated. I think this is what the book is really all about: You can get your information about people politely and reasonably reliably at the same time in order to make informed decisions.

All of the above said, this book is pretty bad as a piece of writing. It doesn't flow; it can't find a balance; it has too many distracting elements; and it oversells.
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