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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,045 Ratings  ·  392 Reviews
In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of "madness" along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bun ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 2012)
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Dec 10, 2012 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic-study
So, this was disappointing.

In sum, this book is about how some psychopathic qualities are actually really helpful and positive and incorporating them into your life can make you succeed. They can reduce anxiety and depression, make you more productive, and even make your more empathetic (although if you're a true psychopath with sadistic tendencies, the empathy payout is getting to enjoy the suffering of your victims more ... so, this isn't a heartwarming "hope for psychopaths" book).

Look, I'll
Simon Fay
Oct 17, 2012 Simon Fay rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In so far as dishing out some interesting facts on psychopathy this was a decent read. I'm all for learning the on/off switches that control what we define as our personalities and the book delivers on that front.

In terms of pointing out worthwhile lessons to be taken from the personality disorder it was oddly biased (the author claims his father and best friend are psychopaths) and even more muddled. It makes a case that there are some instances where having a 'me me me' philosophy is beneficia
Kate Woods Walker
Jan 27, 2013 Kate Woods Walker rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Psychopaths are not misunderstood geniuses with much to teach us about how to be human, as the author contends. They are murderers, rapists, child molesters and criminals of every stripe. They are Wall Street cheats and ruthless dictators. They are cult leaders, con men and reprobates.

I agree with the esteemed Martha Stout about this book. Here's what she had to say in The New Republic:

Dutton seeks to normalize the horrors of the psychopathic personality
By Martin Langfield

If you’ve ever thought your boss is a psychopath, you may be right, according to psychologist Kevin Dutton. And if you’re a top-flight markets trader, captain of industry, surgeon or soldier, you may well be one yourself. But that’s OK, says Dutton. It may even be optimal.

“The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” an exploration of serial killers, monks, spies and CEOs through the prism of personality tests and neuroscience, is a good book lurking within a bad one. In this regard it perfec
Kare Anderson
Sep 16, 2012 Kare Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ironically, both psychopaths and Tibetan monks detect deep emotions that are invisible to others. Psychopaths are much better at recognizing “those telltale signs in the gait of traumatized assault victims” notes The Wisdom of Psychopaths author, Kevin Dutton. Tibetan monks, steeped in meditative practice, are also especially adept at reading feelings that are hidden from the rest of us, Paul Ekman discovered. Ekman, is the preeminent expert on lying and on the six universally expressed emotions ...more
Jul 28, 2013 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Wisdom of Psychopaths begins with a few strikes against it. First, one suspects the publisher commissioned it as a knockoff of Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, published a year earlier. Second, it's vaguely framed as a self-help book, although it never really commits to the concept.

Regardless of the publisher's intention, Kevin Dutton turns out to hold the better credentials—he's a research psychologist at Oxford University—and acquits himself well as a nonfiction author. (He can be forgive
Marija S.
I guess I expected too much from this one.

It is not so much that it left me unconvinced, but I still have trouble with discerning what Dutton's hypothesis was in the first place. The book appears to be a mumbo jumbo of anecdotes, scientific article and book excerpts, snaps from interviews, lectures, conversations. It is easy to read and has insightful points which remain just that - points of reference for further exploration - but I often failed to grasp the meaning the author was trying to und
Long Nguyen
Oct 27, 2012 Long Nguyen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written at a very accessible level for a casual reader of psychology, packed with moments of humor and active thinking, and ultimately an enjoyable read. It makes one wonder where on the sliding scale we'd be, or at least I did.

The contrast between saints and sinners gets a little blurry as Dutton tries to make the case that in moderate doses, some psychopathic traits are very beneficial to society. I wonder then, if it's at all possible to prevent the negatives while capitalizing on the positi
Last autumn, I came across this article in the Globe and Mail which includes an interview with author Kevin Dutton and an overview of his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths. I felt a dropping in my stomach as I read it, because at the end of the article were two lists: one denoting leadership traits, the other the corresponding psychopathic traits. The first list came fairly close to describing my father. The second list pretty much nailed him. I sat in a mild state of shock for a few minutes, then ...more
Jan 05, 2016 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually this is even better than I anticipated, in that the author directly argues his point with some decent supporting evidence. Other books that are trying to make an interesting point (e.g. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) often don't really go anywhere other than trying to blow your mind with neat and quirky things that studies have found. And what is the author's point? That psychopaths are useful in some areas of society, and that people can do better at some things if they ...more
Sep 09, 2014 Elyse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mostly, this book was too technical for my personal reading-taste....but I think I got the basic point: WE ARE ALL A LITTLE BIT CRAZY!
Everyone can be a psychopath: Business leaders, CEO's, sales people, traders, athletes, soldiers, TV & Radio workers, journalists, lawyers, surgeons, etc. Also---its more nature than a nurture thing.

The author spends a good time in this book talking about 'Functional Psychopaths' --(in other words not all psychopaths are damaging to society). I couldn't help
Edward Hoornaert
Jan 03, 2013 Edward Hoornaert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This fascinating book made me think and reevaluate, which is as high a compliment as I can pay. I was originally drawn to it by an interview with the author in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Dr. Dutton said that not all psychopaths are dangerous (which I already knew; many of them were bank traders who drove us to the Great Recession), but he took it further: he stated that in some circumstances, being a psychopath is an advantage. Many psychopaths are extremely successful, as is shown by a study t ...more
Excellent! Dr. Dutton examines the phenomenon of the psychopathic personality from every angle, positive and negative, and makes the resulting study lively, fascinating, and serious but also often funny. He explores the latest science at the time of writing (2009) seeking explanations of how and why some people are psychopaths, how they think and behave, and even undergoes an experimental procedure with a trancranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) machine - one I'd love to try too - to have his own ...more
Jul 11, 2016 oleeleeo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sutton's interest in the subject is somewhat personal; he suspected his own father was a 'path!
A few small anecdotes in and he gets to the meat: he interviews a few experts in the field to get their perspective on if, how the traits of a psychopath can actually be.... beneficial if we utilize them in our daily lives. Unlike sociopaths (emotional, prone to outbursts of uncontrolled anger, yadda) psychopaths are described as having emotions, just 'dialed way down'. In fact, contrary to what many p
Nov 02, 2012 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“I’ve always maintained that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do so at the stock exchange,” he enthused. “Without doubt, there’s a greater proportion of psychopathic big hitters in the corporate world than there is in the general population. You’ll find them in any organization where your position and status afford you power and control over others, and the chance of material gain.”

His coauthor on the corporate psychopathy paper, New York industrial and organizational psychologist
Don't be fooled by the title. Although this book does take a look into how convicted and named "psychopaths" go about doing what they do, this is really a book about how to get what you want. Psychopaths just seem to not mind overstepping the boundary of the sanctity of human life. Runners up? Why, CEO's, of course. The breakdown covers traits of those who are successful at what they do. PK's are hyper-focused, usually charismatic, and don't let things like morality, being good or nice, get in t ...more
Nov 11, 2015 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggle to give this a 5 star but would rank it higher than a 4. The discussions were quite insightful and the analysis of the Frog and Scorpion were used 2 days after explaining the book to an individual.

For what it teaches us about success is also very interesting. Thinking of heads of various companies, I can see how the single track focused mindset with blinders to everything else can propel a company to the top. Yes, those companies probably have bodies along the way but those executive
Jul 02, 2013 Fortinbras79 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reads as if it were written by a relatively young, tenured Oxford professor of psychology...which it is. It has a permeating egotism throughout the writing and the air of superiority comes through in numerous ways.

That being said, if you can get past the dripping meliority, the book is actually quite good.

Kevin Dutton analyzes the brains and behaviours of some of the world's leaders in industry and finance as well as some of the most brutal killers. Decorated soldiers, investment banke
May 05, 2013 Bridgid rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A bit of a tough read at times, but interesting stuff.

In ch. 5 "Make me a psychopath", the case of Bradley Waldroup.

"...the emergence of neurolaw...the increasingly greater interest the courts are now taking in cutting edge neuroscience. The watershed study was published in 2002, and found that a functional polymorphism in a neurotransmitter metabolizing gene predicts psychopathic behavior in men who were mistreated as children. The gene in question - terms, as mentioned previously, the "warrio
Apr 05, 2013 Tirath rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The brilliant thing about psychopaths is that they are quite rational, and sometimes, too rational.

Fear is useless because it is based on potential outcomes, many of which may not happen and have definitely not happened in real life (right now).
The brain goes into a fast forward mode - and you lose sight of the present.
What if you were asleep? Then, you wouldn't be scared would you?

Shouldn't one unknown life be less valuable than 4 unknown lives? If yes, then push.

Psychopaths are amazing at unde
Sep 01, 2015 Mari rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was going to say this could have been so much better, but really, with the premise presented, I don't know that there was much to salvage. It's filled with anecdotes, cleverness, sketchy psuedo-science and even sketchier advice. Martha Stout, whose review appeared in New Republic, sums it up best I think:

"Dutton’s real argument seems to be that sometimes we could all use a little of what he terms “the seven deadly wins”—ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, a
It was cool reading how the individual can benefit from adopting a psicopathic attitude in certain siutations such as under high pressure or extremely demaning conditions.
Jan 29, 2016 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bottom line takeaways: Psychopaths are bad asses and humans are weak and nervous.

This is an interesting book in that, by showing how psychopaths operate they get stuff done and make huge achievements. It's uh, an inspiring read?

Politicians possess a lot of psychopathic traits: example: take advantage of others before they do it to you. Kennedy and Clinton were seen to be psychopaths. They were persuasive, charming, and had strong positive views of themselves. Personal advancement is a theme.

Richard Gazala
Ken Dutton’s “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” has a lot going for it, and just about as much going the other way. Touching first on the latter, be warned that anyone traumatized by a psychopath will find this book a tough read for that reason alone, as Dutton avoids as much as he can overtly (much less negatively) judging the psychopaths who populate his book. Accordingly, if you’re looking for a book defining psychopaths as only vile, this isn’t the read for you. Further, Dutton’s writing style can ...more
Feb 10, 2013 Monica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author is "that guy". He has some vague attempts at being self deprecating but just can't hide how much he wants to make love to himself--not in the normal masturbatory way, but in a creepy doppelganger gangbang sort of way.

Also, the book reads like an excessively long blog post.

The article on this book from Scientific American Mind covers anything you might want to learn without the nausea and the bitter taste of haterade.
Jul 14, 2016 Traci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit of a slow mover, but still a very interesting book. Probably more so due to the amount of true crime shows I've watched since marrying my husband. Psychopaths are scary, right? Well, yes and no. Depends on if you're talking about the serial murderer type, or the business CEO type. Or someone like James Bond. Yes, the author says our beloved Bond is most likely a psychopath - or at least he could be, if Her Majesty's Secret Service hadn't gotten to him first.

It's a good read, and thankfully
John Cooper
Jun 21, 2015 John Cooper rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author begins his book by explaining that his own father was a psychopath. On what evidence? It seems that while he was driven to succeed, he was undeterred by failure, and his spirits never sank. If this seems like unsupported reasoning to you, you may find the rest of the book irritating as well. The author consistently uses the two techniques illustrated by his introduction: label anyone who strongly exhibits any trait among the many associated with sociopathic personality disorder as a " ...more
In the preface, Dutton remembers with pride and admiration his father, the amazing salesman who once sold a whole load of datebooks that only had eleven months instead of twelve: "Unique opportunity to get your hands on an eleven-month diary, folks ... sign up for a special two-for-one offer and get an extra month thrown in next year for free"..
But this is nothing compared to what Kevin Dutton is doing: selling an useless book, by suggesting that it can make readers more successful. "What saints
Karolyn Sherwood
Feb 14, 2013 Karolyn Sherwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I cannot imagine a single person who wouldn't find this book fascinating. I am a writer, so I bought this book as a reference for creating better "bad guys." Every good book needs one or two psychopaths, no? I thought I'd skim it for a some traits and clues into the world of a psychopath. As it turns out, I was captivated by the stories, the writing, and the way Kevin Dutton interweaves the lives and traits of psychopaths with "normal" people.

For instance, surgeons, astronauts, and corporate CE
Darcia Helle
I've long been intrigued by the human mind and what shapes our personalities and decision-making and, as such, found this a compelling read. Kevin Dutton's research approach is far from the typical morbid fascination in the violent crimes of psychopaths. Instead, we look at what makes the psychopathic mind different from the average person's, and how some of those differences make them quite successful in certain careers.

Dutton's writing style is easy to fall into. While I wouldn't call this lig
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KEVIN DUTTON is a research psychologist at the University of Cambridge. His writing and research have been featured in Scientific American Mind, New Scientist, The Guardian, Psychology Today, USA Today, and more. He lives in Cambridge, England.
More about Kevin Dutton...

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“It's a poem about moths. But it's also a poem about psychopaths.
I get it copied. And stick it in a frame.

And now it glowers redoubtably above my desk:an entomological keepsake of the horizons of existence.

And the brutal, star-crossed wisdom of those who seek them out.

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself”
“What if our better nature wasn't better after all? But was instead, well, just nature?” 14 likes
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