Monday, August 10, 2015

The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

The long version of the book's title includes "...what saints, spies, and serial killers can teach us about success."  If the idea that saint's can be psychopaths is a jarring one, then it gets at what is both the illuminating and somewhat confusing aspect of the book.

Most of us, if we think of it at all, assume a psychopath is a serial killer-like individual.  If they don't kill people but have some of the traits, we might think of them as sociopaths.  This book takes all those who demonstrate enough common characteristics and calls them psychopaths, regardless if they kill people or even get caught breaking the law.  Think of it as a continuum, with a chunk of the individuals living next door in a house larger than yours, driving a BMW.  Once I got over the label and read the characteristics, I concluded I've worked for one and with several.  The Wall Street traders who helped launch the Great Recession probably have an inordinate percentage.

What drew me to the book was an NPR interview where the author spoke of brain scans and scientifically vetted measuring surveys that gave insight into what makes a psychopath.  The short answer is nature, nurture, and circumstances.  Sometimes, you want them making the decisions.  The various cited experts and the myriad of measuring devices became a little overwhelming for me, and some of the metrics left me skeptical, but on the whole it looks like the psychological community has a reasonable idea for measuring and describing the category.

What is a little tougher about the book's title is what it can teach the rest of us.  Some of the psychopathic qualities would be useful for the broader community, but attaining them requires a great deal of training and practice, where the psychopath comes by that quality naturally.  Still, understanding the advantage is good to know and may push a few readers into a serious regimen of extended meditation.  Even if that's not the case, it's an interesting read.

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