Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Sociopath Next Door

by Martha Stout - 2.5 stars

I fancy myself as something of an armchair psychologist and so books like this always appeal to me. The cover tells me that 1 in 25 Americans are secret sociopaths and asks who the devil is that you know, and so even though I'm not American I was looking forward to surreptitiously scrutinising my acquaintances for signs of no conscience. 

It's easier said than done, even facetiously. Although the statistics would assume that I know at least a couple, it's hard to assign something like lack of remorse to people as I can't really imagine any of them - even the most destructive and awful of them - being a true sociopath. Except, predictably, those currently in Government.

This book was easily accessible to a layman like me, especially when looking at the potential makings of a sociopath (nature vs nurture) and coming out with interesting points such as the effect of war on the psychological make-up of countries. With Genghis Khan being the sort of guy who slaughtered all he vanquished and fathering tons of sons, apparently now 8 percent of people currently living in the region of the former Mongol empire - 16 million - apparently have a genetic predisposition to genocide, as well as for totally ravaging sporting goods stores.

However, at times this also felt repetitive and some of the anecdotal evidence felt like hammy writing, along with a little too much focus (for me) on presenting sociopathy as a battle between good vs evil. Apparently desiring to put a stop to the damage Stout sees done daily by sociopaths, who she sees as the biggest danger to the world and ourselves, this tipped too much into Helen Lovejoy territory at times for my liking...

...even if every now and then she'd do a complete 180 and start banging the drum of understanding and shedding tears over how awful it must be to live without an emotional life.

A good primer, but I'd have preferred it had it come with less of an agenda, and less hysteria.

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