Deeply thought-provoking and unexpectedly lyrical.

THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR

THE RUTHLESS VERSUS THE REST OF US

From the author of The Myth of Sanity (2001), a remarkable philosophical examination of the phenomenon of sociopathy and its everyday manifestations.

Readers eager for a tabloid-ready survey of serial killers, however, will be disappointed. Instead, Stout (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) busies herself with exploring the workaday lives and motivations of those garden-variety sociopaths who are content with inflicting petty tyrannies and small miseries. As a practicing therapist, she writes, she has spent the past 25 years aiding the survivors of psychological trauma, most of them “controlled and psychologically shattered by individual human perpetrators, often sociopaths.” Antisocial personality disorder, it turns out, occurs in around four percent of the population, so it’s not too surprising that treating their victims has kept Stout quite busy for the past quarter-century. Employing vivid composite character sketches, the author introduces us to such unsavory characters as a psychiatric administrator who specializes in ingratiating herself with her office staff while making her patients feel crazier; a captain of industry who killed frogs as a child and is now convinced he can outsmart the SEC; and a lazy ladies’ man who marries purely to gain access to his new wife’s house and pool. These portraits make a striking impact, and readers with unpleasant neighbors or colleagues may find themselves paying close attention to Stout’s sociopathic-behavior checklist and suggested coping strategies. In addition to introducing these everyday psychopaths, the author examines why the rest of us let them get away with murder. She extensively considers the presence or absence of conscience, as well as our discomfort with questioning those seen as being in power. Stout also ponders our willingness to quash our inner voice when voting for leaders who espouse violence and war as a solution to global problems—pointed stuff in a post-9/11 political climate.

Deeply thought-provoking and unexpectedly lyrical.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-7679-1581-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

THE ART OF THINKING CLEARLY

A waggish, cautionary compilation of pitfalls associated with systematic cognitive errors, from novelist Dobelli.

To be human is to err, routinely and with bias. We exercise deviation from logic, writes the author, as much as, and possibly more than, we display optimal reasoning. In an effort to bring awareness to this sorry state of affairs, he has gathered here—in three-page, anecdotally saturated squibs—nearly 100 examples of muddied thinking. Many will ring familiar to readers (Dobelli’s illustrations are not startlingly original, but observant)—e.g., herd instinct and groupthink, hindsight, overconfidence, the lack of an intuitive grasp of probability or statistical reality. Others, if not new, are smartly encapsulated: social loafing, the hourly rate trap, decision fatigue, carrying on with a lost cause (the sunk-cost fallacy). Most of his points stick home: the deformation of professional thinking, of which Mark Twain said, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails”; multitasking is the illusion of attention with potentially dire results if you are eating a sloppy sandwich while driving on a busy street. In his quest for clarity, Dobelli mostly brings shrewdness, skepticism and wariness to bear, but he can also be opaque—e.g., shaping the details of history “into a consistent story...we speak about ‘understanding,’ but these things cannot be understood in the traditional sense. We simply build the meaning into them afterward.” Well, yes. And if we are to be wary of stories, what are we to make of his many telling anecdotes when he counsels, “Anecdotes are a particularly tricky sort of cherry picking....To rebuff an anecdote is difficult because it is a mini-story, and we know how vulnerable our brains are to those”?

Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-221968-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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