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Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers
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Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  424 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on violence, Dorothy Otnow Lewis has spent the last quarter century studying the minds of killers. Among the notorious murderers she has examined are Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, and Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon. Now she shares her groundbreaking discoveries--and the chilling encounters that led to ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by Ivy Books (first published 1998)
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A fascinating and disturbing book, by a shrewd and compassionate doctor who has made it her life's work to study human violence and violent humans. The author uses her experiences in a number of cases to tell, in a matter-of-fact way, how she and a colleague learned important things about the human mind and soul, and had to unlearn much of what they had been taught in medical school.
As a psychotherapist myself, I find that this is one of the most interesting and informative books I've read. I a
Wow. This was a really honest and disturbing book. Are "evil" murderers more Gomer Pyle than Hannibal Lector? Why do some murderers end up on death row and other actually get the chair? What kind of people volunteer and look forward to become the executioner?

Now, it's been a couple weeks since I actually finished the book. I happened to be traveling outside the country and it really made me wonder why the USA is the only major global player who has a death penalty? Have all the other nations civ
Adam Sprague
What prevents this book from getting a 4 or 5 star review is the fact that the author just looooooovvvveess herself. When the book discusses the judicial system, the patients, and the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on in her type of work -- this is a 5 star book. When she spends an entire chapter talking about her kid's interest in theater and how awesome her husband is...the book is a chore to get through.

This might be a good book for research, and don't get me wrong, this book WILL change y
Sarah Welder
Although I do put forth a disclaimer that once you read this, you cannot take back the horrific images you encounter, I could not put this book down. The criminals Lewis examines changed my perspective on so many aspects of how we treat brain damaged individuals in our society. Quick and easy to read, but you may find yourself reading parts over and over just to believe your eyes...
Apr 24, 2007 kelsey rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in forensic psych
This book really made me think twice before making opinions about criminals. It delves deeply into the similarities that so many criminals share (i.e. the hardships they've suffered as children, etc). Although it doesnt excuse any criminal behavior, it exposes the truth behind so many of these "monsters" motives and personal histories.
Bella Baldwin
Throughout my legal career I wound up working with a numberof convicted sex offenders and discovered some startling similarities (besides the offence itself). One of those was a history of familial violence and sex abuse. I remember thinking "this can't be a coincidence." Although I have had nothing to do with violent killers, I recognised the same patterns that Dorothy Lewis was highlighting in this book. Lewis found herself working with violent murderers - both youngsters who snapped and went ...more
Guilty By Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores The Minds of Killers by Dorothy Otnow Lewis, Ph.D. was different than I expected it to be, and in a pretty fantastic way.

I was expecting to read a book that focused on stories of killers, by Dr. Lewis delves into her career using a few specific cases to bolster her points. And it was terrifyingly addicting. It's sick, I know, my deep and abiding love of true-crime, but I seriously can't get enough. And Dr. Lewis being a psychologist only pull
Joshua Smart
This is a book where I wish I could give half stars (to do 3.5). Or better yet, I wish I could give the majority of the book a 4, and the last chapter a 1. Lewis has certainly had an interesting career, and it's very intriguing to hear about her experiences with killers, especially serial killers. It's also shocking to hear about some of the clear cases of insanity that were systematically finessed in order to get a guilty verdict and death sentence.

The book goes a bit off the rails at the end t
Ayhan Luck
Shawcross claimed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), a condition caused by his service in Vietnam. The prosecution enlisted former FBI and military CID investigator Robert Ressler to ascertain the validity of Shawcross' claims. Ressler used his 35 years of experience to investigate and reveal Shawcross was running a game of shuck and jive to bolster his insanity defense. Under the weight of Ressler's analysis the defense abandoned their use of PTSD as part of their defense.

As the book title suggests, the author is a psychiatrist who, through a circuitous route (she started out working with juveniles), eventually found her way to interviewing death row inmates.

Lewis's basic premise is that most, if not all, killers suffered some sort of neurological damage at some point in their life. This goes beyond the "I was abused as a child" argument that many defense attorneys use to defend their clients. Lewis claims that most killers are actually brain damaged, either fro
Jesse Broussard
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Concise, relatable, compassionate, and definitely one of the best books I've read on the subject. Lewis is unique in her analysis because, unlike many psychiatrists, she is not afraid of relating to the killers. She sees them as humans rather than animals. The cases she documents are also fascinating. The controversial multiple personality disorder was found in many of her patients and she closely interviews many who have suffered from it. Lewis does have a tendency to unnecessarily dramatize sc ...more
Diane Dubay
Gotten hooked on the Jodie Arias trial? Are you willing to throw the switch yourself because of the the prosecutor's argument, the testimony of the defense experts, the grisly nature of the killing and all of the evidence? If this trial has made you wonder if you or your kids or your mother or your sister or your brother might do a grisly, senseless killing of another human being, then this is the book for you!!!!! Relax and start reading -- because Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a scientist whose career ...more
Well written and interesting. I thought this book would be broken into chapters based on the killers and interviews from them. It was, but in a unexpected way. It was not grotesque like I expected. It read like a novel and was a easy read. She discussed why and how she went into the work of studying violence. I like that the author did not omit herself from the book. A very controversial subject matter- death row and how we handle criminals who are indeed insane - done in a very tasteful and tho ...more
An interesting book by a psychiatrist who studies people on death row. She often consults with their defense attorneys, presenting mitigating factors to judges & juries. At least from her perspective, pretty much all of these types of murderers are seriously psychologically damaged. At least from her sample, most are subject to horrible neglect & abuse as children. She talks about several who are so severely abused that they suffer from multiple personality disorder (book was written in ...more
Kandace Mcgrath
This was a very interesting book! The first time I read it, I thought some parts were a little twisted. However this book opened my eyes and gave me a different perspective about the lives of serial killers. I actually read this book a disabilities class in college and it also gave me a different perspective in that regard. I love this book and how insightful it is. I would recommend this book.
Riveting, and remarkably clear for the layperson. Dr. Lewis uses precise medical terms when they're called for, but immediately and clearly explains them. Throughout the book I never felt lost in neurologic/psychiatric terminology, but did feel I learned a great deal about both areas.

The subject matter is extremely disturbing, but also feels necessary--she can't lay out the problems in the system without making it visceral for the reader. In essence, she won't let the reader escape having to kno
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As some of the other reviews suggest, this isn't the most well written book. However, the subject matter is more than interesting enough to keep you reading. I especially found the idea that society doesn't care so much about the why, as they do about all the gory details, interesting. I also appreciated that the author was careful not to overgeneralize. Although she found that most of the violent offenders she studied have a history of trauma, abuse and often brain damage, she did not go so far ...more
Sep 16, 2007 Natalie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: justice-seekers
I work in a psychiatric hospital as an RN. I have done this particular nursing for the past 15 years. During this time I have never encountered a diagnosis for Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Reading this ground-breaking book has really helped me re-consider many previous schizophrenic diagnosis, particularly in patients with memory lapses, and history of childhood abuse. I appreciate the authors candor in stating she had never been taught it was a true diagnostic entity, and her helpful i ...more
A fascinating account of insanity-induced violence and how it is reflected in the justice system -- especially in regards to how courts have treated psychiatric testimony over the years and in how psychiatrists (such as the author) have progressed in making reports and cases. The novel follows Doctor Dorothy Lewis as she studies violence in the juvenile system, the adults, and the juveniles-turned-adults. It touches on something of conspiracy theory toward the end of chapter 18, but is for the m ...more
Very intriguing book. I was fascinated by her journey on how she got into researching and interviewing serial killers. Like her, I was also very curious about why some people with similar backgrounds become killers and some don't. As a therapist I can see myself working with the juveniles but I definitely wouldn't have her courage to work with the adults. This book really made me think about what we as a society consider insane, our legal system, and how we deal with murderers. And now I know th ...more
this book was fascinating so much so i have read it twice.
I can't say I enjoyed this book because I cringed almost the entire way through it, but it was fascinating. It did help me decide that I could NOT be a therapist for sexual assault victims like I originally wanted. This book is very graphic, graphic like a therapy session, and I couldn't take those kind of details every day. Dr. Lewis' hypothesis and findings are insightful. This book does give a glimpse into the mind of the truly insane. Disturbing, but worth reading.
Mandy Sue
Aug 13, 2008 Mandy Sue rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the criminal mind
Recommended to Mandy Sue by: I found it on a stop during a long Greyhound bus trip.
I read this book years ago and although I don't remember the individual case studies I do remember this book opened my eyes to the lives and mindsets of these killers.

The psychiatrist/author's writing put into perspective her views that killers are not born but created. It made my views against the death penalty even stronger.

Not the best writing on the subject but an enjoyable read at least.
Fascinating material and Lewis clearly knows her stuff. The main problem is that the text does not know what it wants to be (is it a novel, a series of case studies, what is the point, etc). Lewis is a bit self-contradicting and makes generalizations based on her specific experiences. I would have appreciated a reflexivity statement or more specific references to cases - that is, a more scientific text.
I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very well written. For anyone in psychology or interested in psychology it gives some interesting insight into multiple personality disorder, and if gave me a bit of a new perspective on criminals and violence. Warning not for the faint of heart it does at times talk about some graphic stuff. Overall great read, would highly recommend.
I loved this book, everything about it. My only regret is that I wasn't able to spend much time with it. (I borrowed it from a friend, and she wanted it back.) This is NOT a book to be read quickly over a two day period. Its much deeper than that. I would have enjoyed taking a week or two to read and reflect. This book was an amazing learning experience.
I really enjoyed this. Mainly, I liked the author's tone and point of view- she is someone that I would love to have a conversation with. The topic is interesting, and her ideas are thought-provoking. This book is based in case studies and personal experience in the field, so don't expect statistics and overall research.
Dr. Lewis studies violence and its frequent roots in violent abuse and nerological damage. And her case stories are very interesting. And as her views evolve over her years of study and experience, she becomes an expert at trying to determine the "why" of appearingly senseless crimes. A very intense read.
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Dorothy Otnow Lewis is an American psychiatrist and author who has been an expert witness at a number of high-profile cases. She specializes in the study of violent individuals and people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Lewis has worked with death row inmates as well as other prison inmates convicted for crimes of passion and violence, and was ...more
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