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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success Audible – Unabridged

3.9 out of 5 stars 234 customer reviews

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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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