The entertainment value of psychopaths

This is my review of The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton.

Ruthlessly cool under pressure, fearlessly risk-taking, charming, manipulative, lacking in empathy and focused – these are the characteristics of clinically insane psychopaths, but also of many CEOs, surgeons, soldiers and bomb disposal experts i.e. people who make a vital contribution to society.

Although I was keen to read more about this from a "renowned psychologist" (see back cover), I soon became frustrated with this book. It is partly the tendency to gallop off at a tangent, losing the thread in the process. The subjective nature of many observations, coming from a scientist, made me uneasy. "But there's evidence to suggest that, deep within the corridors of the brain, psychopathy and sainthood share secret neural office space."

Experiments are cited but they often seem chosen for their gimmicky appeal with confusing explanations of the research methods used. I could have done with a simple diagram of the various parts of the brain and an explanation of things like synapses and neurons in context!

I was also put off by the roller-coaster of Kevin Dutton's overblown prose style. "Streaming behind our fuel-injected, turbo-charged brains are ancient Darwinian vapour trails stretching all the way back to the brutal, blood-soaked killing fields of prehistory."

Too often, there is a breathless capital letter. At the start of every phrase. When he is getting carried away. To quote from his meeting with an American con man. "At close quarters. I distinctly remember our meeting in New Orleans. And how I felt at the time. Enthalled but creeped out …… Despite the millionaire yachtsman vibe, I was under precious few illusions as to the kind of man I was dealing with. Here in all his glory was a psychopath. A predatory social chameleon. As the champagne flowed, and the slow southern twilight glinted off his Rolex, he would colonise your brain synapse by synapse without even breaking a sweat. And without you even knowing." (But surely you do know if you are only interviewing him because of your interest in psychopaths, plus most normally discerning people would be wary of his type anyway).

I am sure many readers will find this book entertaining, but I prefer the more systematic and objectively informative approach to the intriguing but painful and damaging topic of mental disorder, such as to be found in "Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature" by Richard Bentall.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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