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Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts Hardcover – April 26, 2011
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"Riveting and disturbing, an investigation into American-heartland pathos in which 'guilt', 'innocence', 'victim', 'perpetrator', come to seem almost hopelessly tangled. Barbara Oakley is to be commended upon looking so hard, and so closely, at the motives, in some, that underlie acts of 'kindness' and 'altruism'—suggesting that things are not always as they appear, and the phrase killed with kindness springs from the absolute bedrock of folk wisdom." --Joyce Carol Oates, Professor of the Arts at Princeton University, is a recipient of the National Book Award for her novel them, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
"Cold-Blooded Kindness is a terrific book. It combines old-fashioned narrative skills with new insights from science and a tough-minded view of good and evil that is neither sentimental nor cynical." --Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate.
"This true-crime tale is as oxymoronic as the title suggests: An animal-loving mother of four kills her husband execution-style. Oakley studs the book with input from experts on battered women, altruism, and empathy gone awry. Her approach taps another paradox: We can understand genetic influences and remain baffled by any one human's behavior. Read this if you're convinced people are never who they appear to be." --Psychology Today
"I was up all night—read it in one fell swoop. Oakley's riveting narrative, lyrical prose, black humor, clarity of thought, and attention to detail put Cold-Blooded Kindness right alongside Capote's In Cold Blood and Mailer's Executioner's Song, but the insights from neuroscience put this in a class by itself." --Robert Burton, MD, neurologist and author of On Being Certain
"Cold-Blooded Kindness is a masterpiece. Our culture mistakenly teaches that all acts of kindness and altruism are good, but there are many overlooked victims out there who know that kindness can also control, manipulate, and harm. This book is their salvation." --Dr. Helen Smith, forensic psychologist and author of The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill
"Truly a tour de force. Barbara Oakley couples the story-telling gifts of a born novelist with the insights of a sophisticated neuroscientist. Beginning with a sensational crime, Cold-Blooded Kindness gradually pulls back to reveal labyrinthine depths of duplicity conducted on a grand public scale. I alternated between shivering in horror and laughing out loud. This book is a murder mystery, a case study in social pathology, an artist's biography, a courtroom drama, and a scientific detective story all at once. A lot is at stake: human decency; the integrity of the legal system; and the powers of science to illuminate human behavior in its strangest and darkest forms. Cold-Blooded Kindness is a triumphant achievement. --Joseph Carroll, Curators' professor of English, University of Missouri, St. Louis; author of Evolution and Literary Theory and Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature
"Barbara Oakley has written the most ambitious kind of true crime book, one that goes beyond a story well told and takes the lid off the simmering conditions and psychopathology that cook up into a tragic killing. There are haunting warnings for all of us in Cold-Blooded Kindness, as well as a fundamental truth: Homicide is self-will run riot—even if it wears a smiley face." --Lowell Cauffiel, New York Times bestselling author of House of Secrets
"This brave and important book reminds us that even our best intentioned assumptions become prejudices if they go too long unexamined. Truth and justice deserve our rigorously honest attention and we must trust that they will protect us better, in the long run, than convenient lies. The book is also an excellent read—lively, suspenseful, strange, and as insightful as it is disturbing. You should read it." --Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of The Happiness Myth and Doubt: A History
"Cold-Blooded Kindness is a masterful fusion of analytic depth and powerful narrative. A singularly incisive expose of the fallacy of simplistic moral dichotomies we routinely deploy to judge (and misjudge) the intricacies of human nature. And a gripping read to boot." --Elkhonon Goldberg, Ph.D., ABPP-CN, Clinical Professor of Neurology, NYU School of Medicine
"Barbara Oakley sets her sights on a seemingly mundane act of domestic violence to reveal the many hidden layers beneath. To make sense of those layers, Oakley uniquely dissects the dynamic psychological, social, and cultural forces that led an artistically gifted and seemingly kind and caring woman to kill her husband. Was she an abused victim or conniving victimizer? Read Cold-Blooded Kindness and find out." --Mark Blumberg, F. Wendell Miller professor of psychology, University of Iowa, and author of Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution
"A wonderful, intelligent and engaging study that illuminates the disturbing relationship between some of those who appeal to our better instincts, as victims, and those on whom they prey, including ourselves—it will grip the general reader and should be compulsory reading for anyone working in the 'caring' professions. For many the world will never look the same after reading this book." --Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and his Emissary
About the Author
Barbara A. Oakley, PhD (Rochester, MI), is the acclaimed author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. She has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones—her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from Private to Regular Army Captain in the US Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world's largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering.
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A serious page turner, even though I was reading the Kindle version. Oakley's investigation is thorough and engrossing. As the story unfolds, we learn not just about Carole Alden (the accused) and Marty Sessions (the victim), but also about the law enforcement and judicial participants. We also get insight into what may have contributed to the mental misfires that lead to that fatal night. We get a bit of "where are they now" follow up on the people involved, and we see how troubling behaviors can be shared over generations.
Perhaps in her next book, Oakley can examine how so many people who had contact with Alden, had such differing perceptions. How several folks described her as "such a good mother", "such a good person", "just the nicest person" - while others in the same vicinity describe her as an odd person they went out of their way to avoid, someone you wouldn't want to cross, someone to whom they would refer child protective services.
I'm looking forward to starting on Oakley's previous book, Evil Genes; judging by the quality of Cold-Blooded Kindness, I will not be disappointed.
This is a great way to get educated in the strange machinations of our brains. I've read a number of books on the brain, fascinating all, but none so entirely engrossing as Barbara Oakley's. In this book, you get the story of a fascinating character, secure in her pathological self-justification for the murder she has committed, convinced that law enforcement and others will see it as she does. After all, a lifetime of self-centered manipulation of others into sharing her misperceptions has been her salvation. We understand all this and much more as we follow the story in the light of the latest neuroscience and psychological research .
I'm sure I'll be going back to this book from time to time to partake of it's richness, as I have been doing with her earlier book.