I've written many five-star reviews, but never have I been so motivated to try to convince everyone to read the book. Here's why: one in twenty-five Americans is a sociopath, a figure psychologist Martha Stout obtained from three journal articles and a U.S. government source. Assuming this premise of The Sociopath Next Door is correct, or even if the figure is say one in 50, odds are you know at least one sociopath. He or she could be an abusive partner, the person in the next cubicle at work, your landlord, or the person your teenager is dating. Even if you can't think of sociopath you know, you have high odds of encountering one. Given the havoc even one sociopath can wreak in one's life, this book provides a sort of insurance that you'll be able to identify him or her and deal with that person so they don't harm you emotionally, financially, or in any other way. This is a well-written and well-researched book that I think will benefit the 96% of you who are not sociopaths.
To gain the benefits of "sociopath insurance" there are three portions of the book I believe are crucial for you to read: (1) the discussion of what is a sociopath along with her stories illustrating the different types of sociopaths, (BTW, those stories would make fine literary short stories with Stout's descriptive language and suspense building.) (2) Stout's "Thirteen Rules For Dealing With Sociopaths in Everyday Life", and (3) the discussion of how good people with consciences end up allowing sociopathic leaders to rise to power and do horrific acts. If you read just these sections and skip all the philosophical discussions about sociopaths, you will still gain a lot from this book.
One of the first topics covered is what a sociopath is. Stout gives us both the official diagnostic version from the American Psychiatric Association's DSM IV (their diagnostic manual) as well as a sort of "street guide" of what to look for. Essentially, a sociopath will glibly lie, charm and use others, without a moment's remorse over hurting anyone. They're often, but not always, more charismatic, charming and sexy than the average person. Take murderer Scott Peterson for example (although Stout didn't mention him): Women found him quite attractive and charming, and were quick to believe his lies. Most sociopaths are not murderers, (soley because they don't want to get caught and go to prison) but will still wreak havoc lying, stealing, and manipulating people.
After learning how to identify sociopaths, Stout's "Thirteen Rules for DealingWith Sociopaths in Everyday Life" (p.156 - 162) are a MUST-READ and worth the price of the book. All the rules are important. To paraphrase several: Rule 2 - If your gut tells you a person is untrustworthy, even if it's in contrast with their high standing in society such as a doctor or community leader, go with your gut feeling. Rule 3 is the "Rule of Threes." If a person breaks one promise, it may be a misunderstanding. If they break two, there may be a serious mistake. But if they break three promises, you're dealing with a liar. Strike three they're out-count your losses and leave ASAP. Stout advises "do not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to a three-timer." Rule 8 states, "The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication." Remember that sociopaths, like leopards, don't change their spots.
One other MUST-READ section of the book is the discussion on how good people allow sociopaths to rise to positions of authority and to do bad things. To understand this, Stout explains the Milgram experiment which began in 1961 - 62. I won't describe the experiment here, but if you're not familiar with it, I strongly encourage you to google "Milgram experiment" and read about it. As a psychology major in the 1980s, I watched footage of this experiment, which was so powerful, I remember it like it was yesterday. Stout's discussion of the Milgram experiment will show you how the public can all too easily be swayed by people in authority such as charismatic leaders and demagogues. Reading this discussion will help you understand why Rule #4, "Question Authority" is not just an old hippy slogan, but crucial.
Much of the rest of the book contains all sorts of interesting, well-reasoned discussions on many facets of sociopathy: Do sociopaths know they're sociopaths? Is sociopathy caused by heredity, environment or both, and if both, to what extent each? What are the theories of sociopathy from clinical psychology, evolutionary psychology and theology? Given sociopaths never feel guilty, do they have happier lives than the rest of us? (Stout's answer is a resounding "no!") Why do some cultures have (or appear to have) more sociopaths than others? One great thing about these discussions is that Stout doesn't immediately come out and tell the reader what she thinks. Instead, she firsts asks probing thought questions as if you were a student in one of her classes, encouraging you to reason these issues out for yourself. She always gives her opinion by the end, however. These discussions answered most of my questions about sociopaths (and created some new ones!), but was not the most valuable part of the book for me.
Bottom Line: I wish everyone would read this book, particularly people in the dating world meeting strangers. If you always remember on the front burner of your brain that about 4% of people are sociopaths and follow the 13 rules, you're far less likely to be hurt by them.
on February 9, 2005
Stout writes with striking lyric sensitivity and grace about those who have no ability to feel love, remorse, guilt, or joy. Oddly these are some of the most engaging people we will ever meet. Sociopaths, Stout tells us, are as ordinary as a virus. An intimate association with a sociopath carries its own warranty of being a party to a train wreck. Sociopaths can feign every kind of emotion; yet they know but feral pleasures. Sociopaths find rewards in the hunt. Their joys are in conquest and winning. They understand love, but can't feel it. Hence, sociopaths are condemned like the Flying Dutchman of legend to cruise the shoals of real emotion as distant observers, never finding the safe harbor of family, lasting friendship, or love. Stout's work is especially useful for victims. Those who have experienced a sociopath-- a neighbor who seems to thrive on a campaign of sabotaging our relationships and those of our children, a family member who never feels remorse, a boss who takes odd pleasure in demeaning workers and takes credit for our best ideas, a lover who can never be wholly pleased, but works instead to bedevil-- will recognize Stout's finely etched portraits. From this riveting book we can now know the distressing ordinariness of our experience. There is always comfort in finding a name for what is rightfully seen as an unsettling; or, as it is in some sociopathic iterations ---[eg, the Ted Bundys of the world]-- a terrifying encounter. For the rest of us, this book is a graceful, haunting, and carefully crafted admonition that evil is all too common; and it is carried within those charming, bright, accomplished, seductive, and dangerous people we all know, or will. Stout's effort is a stunning literary achievement: a seamless blend of moral philosophy and science rendered into a uniquely accessible, compelling, and useful handbook for our times.
on April 23, 2007
This text is a lucid study of those individuals who seem to be born without a moral conscience, and as Stout elegantly points out throughout this narrative, one in twenty-five Americans are considered sociopath, causing havoc, heartache, destroyed careers, and the death of many people either directly or indirectly.
The single argument in this highly accessible thesis, the one that is down-right astonishing, (though not so after reading the reasons why) is that most of us "instinctively" know when there is a sociopath in our midst, but more often refuse to intellectually or rationally call them for what they are...why? The reason is that we would prefer to believe that the human being is fundamentally good, and pure evil is something rare or something beyond our day to day reality. On the contrary, there are people who move through their lives without a hint of guilt for their acts of harm.
The sociopath's motivation is ultimately selfish and life for them is one big game, a contest about winning at any cost. This is a frightening notion, but after reading this book, you will more than likely recognize someone in your past or currently in your life that has all the characteristics of a sociopath, and come to understand how and why your life is not the way it should be going and the reason for your general unhappiness.
Martha Stout's "composite" case histories are enlightening as she presents us with varied `types' of sociopaths from the homicidal & verbally abusive to the dead beat and covert destroyer of many lives.
One of the more interesting sociopath profiles is the case of "Dr." Doreen Littlefield, a psychologist working at a reputable hospital. Doreen isn't beautiful but has a good body and uses it to her advantage. She is the type of sociopath with a highly covetous nature, willing to annihilate any person that has some thing she doesn't have and desires. Manipulative, dishonest and cunning, Dr. Littlefield interferes with another doctor's handsome patient because the patient is good looking and her colleague is one of the star psychologists on staff. She deliberately caves the patient in, sending him off to the padded cell to simply make her fellow psychologist look bad. Other deceptions, of course, are planted carefully in order to hide her tracks. However, in the end, it is truly shocking that a person would engage in such immoral behaviour without feeling a shed of guilt.
Plainly stated and argued gracefully, the sociopath does not possess an aspect which most people have that make us legitimately human, and that is an actualized conscience - a voice, a feeling that guides us to do the right action, and not hurt our fellow human beings...
What is also extremely helpful is the chapter "Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life."
The Sociopath Next Door is a text for just about anyone interested in how evil, real evil operates and how to deal with them.
on November 18, 2010
Sometimes, it is useful to go directly to a couple of 5-star, then 1-star reviews. I have some background in the psych field, and a graduate degree, so critical thinking is rather routine for me, and it is interesting to see how others received it. My friend loaned me this book, and her boyfriend loaned it to her. I have now recommended it to a couple of people I care about who may be in contact with a like situation.
In business school, we had a discussion more than once on what characteristics makes for a great leader. It would surprise most to find that of the Fortune 500 CEO's, a far greater number are sociopathic than the average for the US population. It also applies to many other positions of power throughout society. A sociopath is not, by itself an evil thing. People are in fact capable of adherence to a good moral code, without personal emotional connection, and they demonstrate this all the time.
Having said all that, those who judged this book 1-star either read only reviews, or cannot actually summarize the intent and content of this book. It is certainly not junk, but its message can be misapplied left and right. One need not be a Nazi or a freak to abuse the concepts contained in Ms. Stout's work. I think the purpose of this book is really to inform people who have had some contact with people who are sociopathic AND destructive. I would like for her to have started with a simple disclaimer: a little bit of knowledge can be more dangerous than none at all. DO NOT read these abnormalities into everyone you dislike, have some conflict with or lost out to. Disagreeable people are not necessarily messed up in this manner.
As for this book being "garbage" (1 reviewer said so), I must point out that the DSM-IV spells out very clearly this and many other personality disorders and illnesses. The statistic of 4% is drawn from a long history of academic research and government data, including many well respected efforts of the military agencies that study civilian populations (PsyOps, for one). You will find (should you care to research it) that several other disorders have similar distributions in our society; some are very destructive and follow a very predictable pathology or have very clear etiology.
I found this to be a very well written discussion , although I was a bit put off by the appeal to paranoia. Sadly, some will see it as the ultimate guide to those we dislike, fear or have been harmed by. That, it is not. Most important, I think, is that labels are dangerous. One who is truly sociopathic can be very toxic. However, many more people have 1, 2 or 3 traits and are not, by definition sociopathic. They are just lousy human beings. One man I know fits the definition, but loves and cares for animals. He, and many other such crummy people are just misanthropists.
Take this book under advisement and use some of its guidance to your betterment; do not elevate it to a religion, or let its message become your very own illness.
This book is really a mixed bag. In the plus column, the author's anecdotes and statistics are tremendously useful when it comes to identifying these people in your life. She explains that the overwhelming majority of sociopaths are NOT Ted Bundy serial killer types, just extremely successful parasites, uncannily adept at seeking out the vulnerable, or at disabling common sense in others. She explains that they can be very difficult to identify, but notes that if she had to pick one consistent warning sign, it would be that they play the victim card very early, hoping to stir up sympathy and compassion. The author also advises us not to engage sociopaths or to think that we can beat them at their own game. By definition, they lack the conscience that may inhibit the behavior of non-sociopaths.
The problems with the book: the author keeps scratching the surface, chapter after chapter, and I found myself wishing she would have gone just a bit more in-depth, instead of simply relating anecdotes. As another reviewer mentioned, she also criticizes the military, and the West as a breeding ground for sociopaths, in comparison to the East. One wonders if she ever heard of Mao, Pol Pot, etc. I don't recall seeing any scientific support for these broad-based assertions, and she would have been better served to leave her political and social biases out of this book, and kept her eyes on the ball.
on July 3, 2006
Psychologist Martha Stout has done us all a service in pointing out that 4% of the population are sociopaths and that most are non-violent and reasonably well-integrated into the community. What that means for the rest of us is that that the pitiless spouse, vindictive co-worker or manipulative boss may in fact be a sociopath-- someone who entirely lacks compassion or empathy and looks at others as pawns to be manipulated for advantage.
How common are sociopaths? According to Stout, they appear in the population slightly more frequently than anorexics-- in other words, somewhat more often than any of us might have suspected.
Stout provides the 7 diagnostic criteria used to diagnose sociopathy, noting that the presence of at least 3 of these characteristics leads many psychiatrists to suspect the disorder. The criteria include failure to conform to social norms; deceitfulness/manipulativeness; impulsivity/failure to plan ahead; aggressiveness/irritability; irresponsibility; reckless disregard for the safety of the self or others; and lack of remorse. In addition to these criteria, many sociopaths demonstrate an extraordinary charm that mesmerizes their victims.
Stout also offers several case studies of widely disparate individuals said to share the diagnosis, including a scheming CEO, a backstabbing psychologist, a ne'er-do-well husband, and a family man and high school principal with a secret life. While very different, the personalities in the case studies share a desire to dominate others to their own ends and a taste for remarkable levels of deceit and manipulation.
This book is a worthwhile read because it serves as a reminder that someone who routinely shows repeatedly deceitful, manipulative and hurtful behavior may well be a sociopath. The book is useful because it helps the sociopath's victims and would-be victims consider the possibility that it is the sociopath who is at fault, rather than doubting (as many of us do) the evidence before our eyes.
Any weaknesses? Stout's assertion that a sociopath's key desire is to arouse the pity of his audience and thereby escape detection seems overly narrow. I'm not a health professional, but I would bet that sociopaths want to arouse any reaction in others that will prevent their detection and keep them in high esteem, whether that reaction be pity, sympathy, admiration or liking.
Stout recommends that the victim of a sociopath avoid him or her at all costs. Excellent advice-- that might not be possible to follow in cases of family attachment or workplace connection. That said, Stout has penned an excellent warning to those of us who are forced to live or work with sociopaths.
If Stout is up for a sequel, an examination of sociopathy in the corporate world might be worthwhile, insofar as some corporate environments might encourage the amorality that is the hallmark of the sociopath.
Recommended reading for those of us who need to be more wary.
on February 9, 2006
If I had, perhaps my daughter would still be alive. We thought her boyfriend was just an idiot, one who got stranger and more jealous and possessive over time, but an idiot, nonetheless - now we find out he's a full-fledged sociopath, meeting all seven of the diagnostic criteria. It even looks like he'll get away with her murder and keep the children. It's hard to articulate how hopeless and helpless we feel at this point. He has all the rights, though he has done all of the wrongs.
This book should be required reading for every mother and daughter. Until we know what we are up against, we cannot fight it. These people are parasites, who feed off the self-esteem, finances, sanity and even the very lives of their victims. If fortunate, the victim ends up with destroyed credit and emotional fallout. If unfortunate, like my daughter, they end up losing their lives at the hands of these very clever people, who have an explanation for everything. My maternal rage knows no bounds, yet I cannot act on it, as I am law-abiding, unlike the person who has become my nemesis.
I've read many of these books since my daughter met her sad fate and this is by far the best. Please, please protect yourself and your family against these totally amoral people. Remember - we are simply amateurs in trying to discern how these minds operate - they are pros, having been at this their entire lives, fooling their victims, their families, even the police.
A person with a conscience finds it very hard to understand what approaches true evil - yet that is what these people are, whether they are two bit hustlers or tyrants like Idi Amin. They are evil, if we want to quantify it morally. Evil without any hope of redemption. It's just a matter of the power they eventually attain, whether they destroy families or nations.
on May 7, 2006
The Sociopath Next Door is a very disappointing book. Stout promises the reader some deep insight into sociopathy, but her worthwhile content could have filled a newspaper article. She refers to a few, bare facts from the research of Hare and others (and has a somewhat decent bibliography) but merely mentions conclusions like "4% of the population are sociopaths." Well, how was that number determined? Who were the populations studied? What measures did they use? Is there a debate on the validity of the research? I wanted a bit more meat before I believed her conclusions about the extent of sociopathy.
Apparently, she wanted to educate the public about these people so individuals can protect themselves, a laudable goal in itself. However, along with anecdotal stories, she merely lists sociopaths' characteristics, with a few illustrations. She tells the reader to look for a lack of normal feeling, empathy and no conscience, and tells us stories of sociopaths to help us recognize these. I have several problems with her analysis. First, she gives no definitive means of differentiating someone who's repressed from someone with no feeling. I'm also confused about how their lack of empathy is different from the mindblindness of autism. I know the two syndromes present very differently, but the descriptions of some of their characteristics seem very similar. Obviously,the research psychologists must be rather poor at describing the distinctions, which then makes me suspect their research methodology.
Finally, as another reviewer mentions, she spends time in several chapters railing about the West and how our individualism promotes sociopathy - as opposed to the peaceful, kind East. She claims that populations in the East have fewer sociopaths, and suggests that the group-oriented philosophies widely accepted in the East, like Buddhism, promote empathy and deter the development of sociopathy.
Hmm, I know plenty of Eastern history that argues against this: what about Indian widow-burning? Eastern societies have had at least as many, if not more, dictatorial rulers, through Chinese, Indian and Japanese history as the West, and their people are generally quite unempathetic to those who don't fit in to societal norms. Japan, a largely Buddhist nation, had a history of massive repression of the populace through the Shogunate. Its people were less than empathetic to those they conquered - see the invasion of Korea and China and World War II; try their prisoner of war camps. So, once again, how did the researchers come up with their data about East versus West? No data or methods are given.
I'm disappointed in the simple-minded attack on self-interest as the cause of sociopathy. Stout's own evidence argues against self-interest �as a cause - since she demonstrates what miserable lives they lead! A full, enlightened view of self-interest would recognize that human beings, to live happy lives, need to interact well with one another and have loving and vital relationships. Duh, this is not a new idea, but apparently a difficult one for some to grasp. However, to claim that sociopathy in the West is a result of individualism is not only intellectually and historically ignorant but a smear on individualism.
Finally, the way she presents the condition of sociopathy,it appears intractable. Without sharp analysis and tools for differentiating emotionally normal people from sociopaths, the book throws the suspicion of sociopathy on all manner of people who act meanly, manipulatively or commit crimes. What does that imply for public policy?
on January 11, 2006
I purchased this book because I suspected that the man I had been involved with was a sociopath. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this book verified my suspicions. If you recognize that someone close to you is a sociopath, expect to have an emotional reaction to this book. It scared the hell out of me! Sociopaths can be very dangerous, and you should never underestimate their capacity for evil. On a positive note, once the dust settled, the book brought a sense of closure and relief. I was able to make sense of the situation, protect myself from this individual, and move on.
I agree with other reviews, this book doesn't offer a strong scientific backing. If that is what you are hoping for you should look elsewhere. On the other hand, Dr. Stout does an excellent job of painting a portrait of the sociopath, and helping the reader to recognize the telltale signs. She offers sound advice on how to deal with a sociopath (namely DON'T, if you can help it). If you have had the misfortune of crossing paths with such a person, I urge you to read this book. I found it invaluable.
The author lifts the veil of stereotypes to present the real risks significant interaction with a sociopath can present.
The statistic that is most shocking from this book is that 4% of the population might suffer from this condition. At some point we will all interact with sociopaths. What the book drives home is that their condition may impact the lives of the other 96% more than the sociopaths themselves.
Reading the composite descriptions I can clearly identify one individual who fitted the composite description so clearly it could have been written for her. The author drives home the outward superficial normality of many of these people.
The style of writing is informative and accessible to the non psychologist. The composite descriptions contain warnings very worthy of consideration. Excellent book.