Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers” as Want to Read:
Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  587 Ratings  ·  61 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Guilty by Reason of Insanity, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Guilty by Reason of Insanity

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The more we understand about the genesis of violence, the harder it is to draw a clear line between guilt and innocence, sanity and insanity. We, as a society of thinking and feeling human beings, struggle within ourselves to cope with competing interests and motivations: the need for protection from dangerous people, sane or insane; the desire for revenge; the knowledge of the psychobiological and environmental influences on violent behavior; and the wish to adapt evolving standards of decency
Bella Baldwin
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Adam Sprague
Aug 21, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 24, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Sarah Welder
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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...
C.M. Thompson
May 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
I am conflicted with this one. It is somewhere between two and three stars.

In the books defence it was written over ten years ago. Psychology and understanding has continued to develop since then. It may have been a better read when it was first written.

What I didn't like about the book is that the author never considers the possibility that the prisoners that she interviews are not completely telling the truth. In a different novel, regarding the son of Sam, the interviewer then tells SoS "to
May 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It got boring, quickly. Granted, it's not a picture book . . . but not one single illustration. So that makes it a prolonged diary, with everything thrown in.

Reminded me of one of my criminal justice teachers, who interviewed the "local" bad guy in Vacaville, CA (CMF, CA Medical Facility--for the mentally insane), Edmund Kemper. Guess the bad guys liked to be entertained by these forays. They sure enjoyed my visits.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This one finally put me over the edge. Time to step away from true crime for awhile. Very good book but very disturbing. This is a horrifying world we live in. And, side-note, maybe it's just me but I believe the parents (or other family members) who rape and torture their children deserve the death penalty more than the monsters they create.
Jesse Broussard
Aug 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent examination of the ongoing issue of whether sociopaths are born or made. Points made by this book:

-Nearly every killer studied by the author and her colleague Jonathan Pincus proved to have suffered humiliating abuse (mostly sexual) during childhood. Although she had a few interviews with Ted Bundy, she could not spend enough time with him to test her hypothesis. She was also unable to interview Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's killer, about his childhood because he immedia
John Nelson
In most murder cases the killer's motive is readily ascertained. That motive does not justify the crime, and in some cases verges on pure evil, but what the killer hoped to accomplish and the logical connection between that objective and the murder are clear.

Sometimes, however, a horrific crime is committed for no decipherable reason at all. Perhaps the best example of this "malice without motive" is the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado several years ago. The killer didn't know any of
Ayhan Luck
Feb 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
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.

Erika Nerdypants
Nov 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent but very disturbing book about how serial killers are made. Otnow, an experienced psychiatrist presents some very controversial theories, but psychiatry is considered a "soft" science for a reason. Her findings of DID in death row inmates are too significant to be ignored, yet I suspect any changes in treatment and legal outcomes from this research won't materialize quickly, if at all. I'm not convinced that this information was obtained by following a scientific model, but I didn't ge ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Meera Joseph
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
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Diane Dubay
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook, read-in-2013
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
Sep 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Very interesting read that challenges the assumptions of both sides of the NGI debate. Gives many case examples of murderers who actually have serious medical reasons not to be held responsible for their actions. The author also lays out reasons someone with one of these medical conditions is less likely than others in the same position to plead not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI). One hopes this book can help the reader understand the difference between serious and bogus reasons to plead NGI ...more
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing and interesting book. I was absolutely hooked the entire time. As a forensic student, it's interesting to me to see these killers from a psychiatrist's point of view. Doctor Lewis delves into the pasts and the minds of these murderers and examines what it is that turned them to kill. Was it a mental illness? An abusive past? A combination of the two? Or something else? Throughout this book, Doctor Lewis asks these questions and works hard to uncover the answers. Definitely an int ...more
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mandy Sue
Aug 13, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Dark Dreams: Sexual Violence, Homicide And The Criminal Mind
  • Signature Killers
  • Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters
  • Inside the Criminal Mind
  • The Anatomy of Evil
  • The Unknown Darkness : Profiling the Predators Among Us
  • The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals
  • The Measure of Madness: Inside the Disturbed and Disturbing Criminal Mind
  • The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood's Journey into the Minds of Serial Killers
  • True Stories of Law & Order: SVU
  • Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex Offenders
  • Women Who Kill: Profiles of Female Serial Killers
  • Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives
  • Serial Murderers and Their Victims
  • The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes
  • Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy?
  • Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights
  • Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist
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
More about Dorothy Otnow Lewis...