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

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  2,027 ratings  ·  242 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
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Kare C Anderson
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
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...more
Kate Woods Walker
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...more
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
Edward Hoornaert
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
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...more
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
Long Nguyen
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...more
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...more
“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
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...more
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
Karolyn Sherwood
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...more
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...more
Mirek Kukla
Kevin Dutton's "The Wisdom of the Psychopaths" would have made for a terrific Rolling Stone article. It presents a fun thesis - that being a psychopath, at least in moderation, can be useful; it's full of cheeky, colorful language ("if there's one thing psychopaths have in common, it's the consummate ability to pass themselves off as normal, everyday folk, while behind the facade - the brutal, brilliant disguise - beats the refrigerated heart of a ruthless, glacial predator"); and it does a dece...more
I enjoyed this book very much. After reading it, I am convinced that close to 25% of my friends are psychopaths. ;) None of my friends on Goodreads, of course.
Soooo...thank goodness all of my friends on Goodreads are "saints". It helps bring balance to my life. ;)

I like that this book contains scenarios & questions for you to present to someone you might think is a sociopath. I definitely picked up a question or two to ask potential boyfriends.

Asking how they would react to the 2 different...more
**Disclaimer: The publisher provided a free digital ARC of this book for review purposes.

“The Wisdom of Psychopaths” is nonfiction, and I rarely review nonfiction, but this book is one I highly recommend to writers tackling tales about the complexities of a disturbed mind. The author creates a compelling study of psychopaths. I know you’re thinking psychology is a boring read, but Dutton provides fascinating insights without bogging the reader down in technical jargon. It’s actually an enjoyable...more
Lesley Wilson
If you hear the word psychopath and it immediately conjures the image of a merciless serial killer who takes pleasure in his victims’ pain and suffering, you would be in good company. But you wouldn't necessarily be right - at least not entirely. This is only one facet of what it means to be a psychopath. This is the premise of the book The Wisdom of Psychopaths.

Author Kevin Dutton is a research psychologist who has studied psychopaths to see what mankind can learn from these highly driven and f...more
3.5 stars

Not always easy reading, but very interesting nevertheless. It was good to read another viewpoint of psychopathy - 'mad' but not always necessarily 'bad', I suppose. Dutton surprised me with some facts on the 'inner life' of the psychopath too; they're not strictly devoid of all emotion (one can't be a sadistic psychopath without empathy - it's just no fun otherwise) in some circumstances they behave more altruistically than 'normal' people, and also share some traits with Buddhist monk...more
Steven Ramirez
As a writer, I am constantly on the hunt for new reference works that I can leverage to inform my work. Like many of you, I’m fascinated by psychopathy. After reading fiction and nonfiction books and watching countless movies about serial killers and other crazies, I was astonished to learn that I knew almost nothing about psychopaths. This book has made the scales fall from my eyes.

Kevin Dutton does a fantastic job of covering the breadth of writings and experiments going on in this space. His...more
Jennifer-Eve Workman
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I'm at a loss for writing a review at this point.

Words that come to mind are WOW that was interesting... I liked it. Unfortunately, I usually read one or for books at a time and this book was a much deeper read than I was expecting. I think I am going to go back and read a few places that I earmarked (or maybe reread the entire thing) before I finish this review.

I have always been very interested in the psychology of "extreme" people, be it psychopaths,...more
Michael Jay
When I first read reviews on this book I was intrigued. I actually read a magazine snippet of the book and thought it would be a good read. However, I was disappointed with the content. The book is well researched and offers some fascinating insights of experimental studies. Those little pieces of knowledge are few and far between. I also was not huge fan of Dr. Dutton's writing style. I found it hard to follow at times and rather annoying. I will say though, that having seen him speak; he write...more
The idea is compelling: if you could harness certain personality traits of a psychopath, you would be happier, wealthier, and more productive to society. The book is easy to read (although certain passages discussing a dysfunctional psychopath induced nightmares), but in my never-to-be-humble opinion, the first chapter was so concise that the respective chapters seemed to be rehashing the ideas I had already ruminated over. Interesting notions, believable arguments, but in the long run, I'm comf...more
Fascinating book. Kevin Dutton proposes that having some psychopathic traits are actually beneficial for living in the 21st century. He sets forth solid arguments backed with extensive reliable research along with personal experience.

He also goes in depth about differences between personality disorders and psychopathy, that a) psychopathy doesn't necessarily means cold crime or violence b) having a personality disorder can be beneficial even if the cost outweighs the benefits.

One particular pa...more
Nicola Mansfield
I have a great interest in neuroscience, specifically the psychology of the brain and the title of this book grabbed me from the beginning. First, though, this book is not about serial killers. Yes, there are a few mentioned throughout and the book ends with a small section on them but this book is about people who are not criminals. People who possess the same qualities as psychopaths and thus, can be labelled psychopaths, but are functional within society. It then goes on to discuss how these...more
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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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“What if our better nature wasn't better after all? But was instead, well, just nature?” 7 likes
“Psychopathy is like sunlight. Overexposure can hasten one’s demise in grotesque, carcinogenic fashion. But regulated exposure at controlled and optimal levels can have a significant positive impact on well-being and quality of life.” 4 likes
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