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Archive: Other Books > The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon - 4 stars

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message 1: by Joy D (new)

Joy D | 4190 comments The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon - 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars

Non-fiction memoir from a neuroscientist who inadvertently discovered his brain scan is similar to that of the psychopathic killers he had been studying. Fallon is married, has a family, and does not show a history of violence; however, he admits he possesses many of the traits of a psychopath, such as lack of empathy and remorse, unreliability, impulsivity, putting loved ones in danger for the thrill of it, lying, manipulation, and narcissism. He provides plenty of examples from his life that demonstrate these traits. Fallon considers himself a “pro-social” (non-violent) psychopath, which he also refers to as “Psychopath Lite.”

In his words, “Love me or hate me, I was not a criminal. My brain may have looked a lot like those of the murderers I’d been studying, but I had never killed or ruthlessly assaulted anyone. I had never fantasized about committing violence or doing harm to another individual. I was a successful, happily married father of three—a pretty normal guy.”

I found the title intriguing. Ever since I had a less than pleasant encounter with a psychopath years ago, I have been occasionally reading about brain science, how psychopaths operate, and how to identify and avoid them. Many people with only a passing idea of psychopathy believe these people are hard-boiled killers, but what some may not realize is that a certain percentage of the population carries every negative trait of a psychopath except the violent criminal behavior. They lack empathy, and can be cold, calculating, superficial, and manipulative. They can also be glib and charming. Fallon estimates two percent of the population are psychopathic. I have read other books that put this figure as high as four percent, and this figure likely does not include "pro-social" psychopaths.

If you are just starting down the path of reading up on brain science, I recommend starting elsewhere to get the basics down before tackling this book for a couple of reasons. 1) Fallon engages in an abundance of scientific analysis and uses jargon unfamiliar to many people. He speaks of chemical neurotransmitters, brain anatomy, psychotropic medications, epigenetic tagging, and similar related concepts, which merit a basic understanding in order to follow his train of thought. 2) He makes a few outlandish claims, which I don’t think anyone without at least a basic knowledge of these concepts would be able to refute, or even know they should be refuted.

Although he tries to remain objective, I do not think he succeeds. He spends a good amount of time excusing and rationalizing his actions. He argues that psychopaths are beneficial to society. In my opinion, his logic is flawed. Of course, I’m not a research scientist, but much of my reading does not lead to the same interpretations. He includes a plethora of personal information, some of which is unnecessary and repetitive, and as should come as no surprise, much of it sounds grandiose. Several chapters read like a thesis.

I found this book a very good guide to how a “pro-social” psychopath thinks. The last few chapters, in particular, are very telling. For example, he states, “But the inherent problem I could not shake is that, try as I may, I really just don’t care. There it is again. I do have some desire to keep the people around me happy, but that’s mostly because it makes my own life easier and more pleasant.” At any rate, it is an interesting memoir, providing you do not accept his conclusions at face value.

Link to My GR Review

message 2: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2617 comments Wow - fascinating review, Joy!

I strongly suspect the self serving justifications would make me want to punch him (empathically) in the face with his own book, but it’s such an interesting topic ... and at least he’s open, and his perspective is consistent with the diagnosis, I guess 😁

message 3: by Joy D (last edited Apr 25, 2019 11:02PM) (new)

Joy D | 4190 comments KateNZ wrote: "Wow - fascinating review, Joy!

I strongly suspect the self serving justifications would make me want to punch him (empathically) in the face with his own book, but it’s such an interesting topic ..."

Thanks, KateNZ! Yes, his writing is an interesting tip-off to how a pro-social psychopath thinks, which is what I wanted out of the book.

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