Angie Boyter's Reviews > Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts

Cold-Blooded Kindness by Barbara Oakley
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Oct 23, 2011

really liked it

In 2006, artist and mother-of-five Carole Alden shot and killed her drug-addicted third husband Marty Sessions in their trailer home in rural Utah, dragged his body to a grave in the backyard, and then, at the urging of a friend, called the police to report what she had done. Alden pled self-defense justified by a history of abuse that made her fear for her safety. Cold-blooded Kindness tells the story.
Author Oakley says that after her last book, Evil Genes, which explored the question of whether some people are just innately evil, she had become interested in looking at the question of whether our feelings of kindness can backfire and produce bad results. The Alden case seemed ideal for this subject, and she “was looking forward to the opportunity to write about someone nice for a change.” She embarked on what was clearly extensive contact with Carole and Marty’s family and friends, with the police, attorneys, and forensic specialists who worked on Carole’s case, and with Carole herself. The more she learned, however, the murkier the picture became. Was Carole naïve, or was she a manipulator? Was she a devoted mother or guilty of child neglect, almost child abuse? Who was the real victim?
The book tells a compelling story of troubled people, but it also has an important message, which can be summed up succinctly with a quote from psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat, “In virtually all of the psychiatric disorders…the shadow of our ignorance overwhelms the few dim lights of our knowledge.” Oakley presents the current research findings, theories, and controversies on codependence, the battered woman syndrome, victimology, and related issues, documented with extensive notes and citations for the interested or skeptical reader who wants to know more. Her investigation was so extensive that she has now co-edited a scholarly book called Pathological Altruism. Ironically, some of the research seems itself to be a good example of kindness gone awry, whereby researchers’ desire to help the people they study makes them reject objective analysis that might lead ultimately to better solutions.
Cold-blooded Kindness is a very ambitious book; indeed it is several books wrapped into one, and sometimes it seems a mite disorderly as it switches from discussion of Carole to research on battered women to the forensic investigations to current theories about genes and empathy. But it is always fascinating and worth your time, whether you are interested in true crime or the science behind what makes people act as they do.

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