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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by [Dutton, Kevin]
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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 236 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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." —Michael Shermer, The Wall Street Journal

"[A] high-octane charge across the psychopathy continuum." —Kaja Perina, Psychology Today

“There’s no denying it: we love our psychopaths….[and] in his entertaining new bookDutton sheds some light on the stunning magnetism of the ethically challenged.” —The Daily Beast

"Dutton deftly navigates through some disturbing subject matter, but his message is ultimately upbeat: Scientists may be able to learn a lot from the darker side of human nature." —Allison Bohac, Science News

“A convincing study . . . The admirable quality of this book is Dutton's refusal to accept easy answers in one of the more sensational fields of popular psychology.” —Tim Adams, The Observer (UK)

"Dutton spins a solid yarn, turning what could easily have been a dry survey of psych research into entertainment."  —Scott Olster, Fortune (CNN Money)

The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a surprising, absorbing, and perceptive book. Kevin Dutton has amassed a great deal of knowledge about these charming, cold, fearless, emotionally indifferent people, who are so attractive in some ways and so appalling in others, and set it out in a briskly readable prose studded with gripping anecdotes. I found it altogether fascinating.” —Philip Pullman, author of the bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy

“Dutton tackles an elusive, important, and much neglected aspect of the mind: our personality. He presents some highly original insights and does so in a provocative and humorous style—offering practical tips along the way for both ‘normals’ and ‘sociopaths.’” —V. S. Ramachandran, Ph.D., author of The Tell-Tale Brain and BBC Reith lecturer

“Dutton has written a masterful, readable, and entertaining treatise on psychopathy and its manifestations in everyday life. Some of his ideas will generate debate and controversy, but he clearly has provided a thought-provoking book for those seeking to understand the ‘psychopathic’ world in which they live.” —Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., author of Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us and developer of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist

“The irrepressible Kevin Dutton has done it again! This time he has produced an irreverent romp through the bright side and dark side of the mysterious psychopath, and does a great job of mixing the scientific with the personal, offering readers an insider’s glimpse into the workings of fascinating persons—and fascinating personalities. Readers will come away both enlightened and entertained.” —Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Emory University, President-Elect of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, and coauthor of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology

“If you’ve been keeping your inner psychopath locked up in the maximum-security unit of your mind, Kevin Dutton explains why giving him some fresh air from time to time may actually do you—and, more important, the rest of us—a world of good. Just give him this book to read and make sure he’s a literate, functional psychopath.” —Jesse Bering, Ph.D., author of Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? and The Belief Instinct

About the Author

Professor Kevin Dutton is a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science, Magdalen College, University of Oxford. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. He is the author of the acclaimed Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion. He lives in the Cotswolds.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1919 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Publication Date: October 16, 2012
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007NKN9U8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,950 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. P. Thomas on December 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a clearly well researched and often fascinating book, but one which nevertheless rests on a whole bunch of assumptions and long bows.

Dutton takes the term psychopath and completely undermines any point to it as a diagnostic term. Once he's placed it on a 'spectrum' it enables him to talk about 'turning up and down' the dials, even turning them up on some traits associated with the psychopath (fearlessness, ruthlessness) while not on others. What if, says Dutton, we could take those traits and apply them to particular situations, like defusing a bomb, or performing difficult surgery? But this isn't the issue of psychopathy. The problem with psychopathy is precisely that it is a general callous disregard for other individuals as worthy of any consideration other than that which will serve their self interested needs. It's not something they 'turn on and turn off' as situations require. And he never makes the case that it is.

Dutton focuses on the functional psychopath to make his argument that they're not all damaging to society, but that they often perform much needed tasks. What he doesn't do is talk to the families of these so called 'functional' psychopaths. He doesn't look at the psychological havoc often spread, which while not illegal, and not landing them in jail, often has enormous ramifications for those individuals that are forced to deal with them on a day to day basis.

His treatment of the term empathy is curious to say the least, and again he stretches it to a point where it largely becomes meaningless. Far from lacking empathy, says Dutton, psychopaths have too MUCH empathy. His proof? Well look at the obvious pleasure a serial killer psychopath takes in the distress of his victim.
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Format: Hardcover
If you've ever thought your boss is a psychopath, you may be right, according to psychologist Kevin Dutton. And if you're a top-flight markets trader, captain of industry, surgeon or soldier, you may well be one yourself. But that's OK, says Dutton. It may even be optimal.

"The Wisdom of Psychopaths," an exploration of serial killers, monks, spies and CEOs through the prism of personality tests and neuroscience, is a good book lurking within a bad one. In this regard it perfectly reflects its theme, which is that among the dark traits which make a person psychopathic nestle behaviors and abilities that are not only necessary, but good, for individuals and society. In the seeds of evil, he proposes, wisdom may be found.

An Oxford University research psychologist, Dutton may discomfit many readers with an almost adolescent joy in mixed metaphors and grating puns, relishing the shock value of his premise as he liberally applies the term "psychopath" to all kinds of people. It may sound like he is suggesting sadistic ax-murderers or serial rapists lurk within all men, but his point is rather more subtle. Perhaps this approach is a deliberate attempt to open the reader's mind to new ideas. Or perhaps he needs a more restrained editor.

Still, a razor-sharp intellect with a serious academic purpose lurks behind the loose phrasing and wordiness. Dutton stacks up references to interlocking personality studies, brain scans and physiological examinations, comparing members of the general population with those behind bars and those who excel at certain sharp-end professions. His argument is that most "psychopaths" aren't violent, and indeed most aren't locked away.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The point the author seems to be making is that a little psychopathy can be a good thing. He mentions quite a few successful businessmen and politicians who score high on psychopath tests. He claims his father is a psychopath. The part I found most interesting was a list of professions and how people in those professions score for psychopathy. Policemen, for instance, score high for psychopathy. But the premise is, in the end, trivial. Surgeons are trained to see their patients as a piece of meat. Policemen and the military are trained to function normally in horrifying conditions and to kill without hesitation. They couldn't do their jobs otherwise. A little of anything is valuable in certain circumstances; cold-bloodiness, contempt, skepticism, you name it. I defy anyone to mention any quality that isn't useful in certain circumstances. It's the degree and circumstances that define whether a trait is valuable or not.

I was left with as many questions as answers. While Mr. Dutton addressed professions, he didn't touch age. I'd be willing to bet that children score high on psychopath tests, because children aren't born with empathy but learn it. So while Dutton is asking questions, he's cherry-picking his questions and demographics. He's addressing certain demographics that he wants us to pay attention to in order to make his point.

Another question I had concerned intelligence - do psychopaths test high, low or conform to the same kind of bell curve non-psychopaths do? And, on the subject of intelligence: He mentions a number of self-confessed psychopaths, so apparently psychopaths do know they're psychopaths. Then he mentions psychopath tests that seem to me to be idiotically simple to see through.
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