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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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“A terrifically entertaining and chilling book.” ―William Georgiades, Slate
“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 book…Dutton sheds some light on the stunning magnetism of the ethically challenged.” ―The Daily Beast
“It's hard not to like Dutton's book . . . Dutton, like [Norman] Mailer, is waging war against the bien-pensant. And I'm with him. Life would be more fun if more people cultivated their inner psychopath.” ―Ann Marlowe, Tablet
“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 bestselling The Tell-Tale Brain
“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, Professor of Psychology at Emory University, President 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, author of Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?
About the Author
Dr. 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 the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. Dutton is the author of Split-Second Persuasion. His writing and research have been featured in Scientific American Mind, New Scientist, The Guardian, Psychology Today, and USA Today. He lives in Oxford, England.
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Top Customer Reviews
"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. Many excel in society precisely because they possess, in a more moderate or controlled way, the same traits that land their more antisocial brethren in a world of hurt.
The key traits include: ruthlessness; intense capacity to focus, excluding all distractions such as fear; powerful reward motivation; a disposition to action; acute ability to read emotions in other people, without being moved by them; charisma; mental resilience; and mindfulness, the ability to live in the present moment.
Many people have some of these traits, he says. Those who can manage to flick them on and off according to circumstance have a powerful toolkit for doing well in life, particularly in high-risk, high-reward professions. Those with only partial control of such traits, or who have them jammed full-on all the time, may severely hurt others, ruin their own business or even damage the world economy. Those who lack any such traits should try to embrace a few, Dutton suggests.
In examining CEOs, Dutton also cites a 2005 academic study that compared business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals in a psychological profiling test. "A number of psychopathic attributes were actually more common in business leaders than in so-called disturbed criminals," Dutton writes, listing attributes such as superficial charm, egocentricity, persuasiveness, lack of empathy, independence, and focus. The main difference lay in the "antisocial" traits, with the criminals' physical aggression, impulsivity and lawbreaking dials cranked up higher.
One of Dutton's own surveys, in which visitors to his website take a personality test called the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale and give details of their professions, found that CEOs ranked highest on the scale, followed by lawyers, TV and radio workers, salespeople, surgeons and journalists.
Dutton interviews "functional psychopath" special-forces soldiers, financial traders, lawyers and doctors, often in exotic locales, who speak of experiencing altered states of consciousness when entirely focused on their work, akin to the concept of "flow" or "optimal experience" of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. One of the most intriguing of Dutton's insights is the similarity he relates between certain psychopathic traits and those exhibited by experts in Buddhist meditation. Both are very good, for example, at reading emotions in people's faces, embracing new experiences, remaining in the moment and practicing detachment.
To say psychological traits required in killing and in making a killing in the markets are not dissimilar may seem trite. Yet Dutton, despite his tendency to showboat, uses that observation as a starting point for a disconcerting and intelligent exploration of the outer reaches and useful inner depths of at least some human minds.
But I could not stand the breathless, pop-psychology writing style of the author. There were too many rhymes, puns, and silly witticisms. It was distracting. I would have liked this book more if it did not talk down to its audience, assuming that the reader needs all this "entertainment" to keep reading. It should have been written in a more sober and scholarly way, given the serious subject matter.
There is depth to The Wisdom of Psychopaths. It gets past the cliché that psychopaths don't feel empathy it turns out they are acute observers of others, it just doesn't motivate their behavior. The review of the research on identifying the characteristics of a psychopath and their behavioral characteristics is thorough and insightful. For example: it is an over simplification to say psychopaths are risk takers; they are more motivated by rewards, but their risk assessment is normal.
The main point is there are characteristics of psychopaths that, in certain contexts, are beneficial. Psychopaths are cool under pressure. The calm a psychopath feels during stressful situation is similar to the way an expert responds. Society may be stronger with psychopaths; they are leaders and can be effective against outsiders.
After reading the book, I didn't feel like I could emulate psychopaths and start personally reaping the benefits. I am more trusting of my psychopath spidy-sense - it turns out that chill is fairly accurate. I am now suspicious of charmers.
The thing that ruins the book for me (and seemed to create the repetition) was the way the author used his quest for knowledge as the narrative for the book. Academic research is dry, the trend is to spice it use using the "story" of how the research was conducted. This doesn't work. Either find a compelling story or stick to very tight analysis.
PS: Here's a detailed review by Martha Stout who knows a thing or two about psychopaths: