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The information provided in these chapters is informative and useful, but the descriptions of the behavior of psychopaths ...
on November 18, 2015
There are moments when Dr. Robert Hare's Without Conscience blisters with insight. Unfortunately, there are also several instances in which he seems to beg for attention and cater to public fascination for villainy. Hare draws heavily on Hervey Cleckley's work (most notably from his book The Mask of Sanity) to develop a Psychopathy Checklist which he uses to diagnose the disorder. He spends the vast majority of the book describing the components of his Checklist and offering examples from his own interviews as well as more famous cases. The information provided in these chapters is informative and useful, but the descriptions of the behavior of psychopaths aren't particularly innovative, since by Hare's own admission, Cleckley described the same behaviors in his patients fifty years earlier.
Hare offers more value with his descriptions of the latest research on how psychopaths' brains actually function, and how they think and use language. He weighs the merits and shortcomings of the latest theories on the origins and development of psychopathy, and offers the intriguing hypothesis that individuals born with the makeup of a psychopath will not change, although the quality of their upbringing may affect whether their disorders express themselves through violence and sexual deviance or less physically harmful behavior such as deception or fraud. He also proposes further research into the treatment of this disorder, rightly observing that such interventions will likely not help psychopaths develop empathy, though they may lead them to realize and assume responsibility for the destructiveness of their behavior.
However, despite Hare's assertion that the vast majority of psychopaths are not violent serial offenders, Without Conscience is littered with descriptions of killers like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. Even though these criminals may exemplify some of the traits of psychopaths, by Hare's own admission, he never interviewed them himself or diagnosed them with the disorder. At times it seems Hare is writing merely to maintain the attention of those readers who picked up his book in an airport after following a serial killer manhunt on the news. At one point, he even finishes a story about a psychopath who served a short prison sentence with the warning "he may now be in your community."
All in all, Without Conscience offers a solid introduction into the basics of the psychopathic disorder. Readers who would prefer a more scholarly treatment should look elsewhere, but this book is short, simplified and entertaining enough to capture the interest of most readers unfamiliar with the subject.