BookBin2016: The Sociopath Next Door

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According to Dr. Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door, at least 25 percent of the American population comprises people who are utterly devoid of any conscience.

They’re called politicians.

I kid. Kind of. Not really. After reading this book, I’m pretty sure that the majority of our politicians and millionaire business bullies fall within this conscienceless percentile. I’m pretty sure at least half the candidates running for president right now fit the profile. Even beyond the national stage, I’ve unfortunately known a few sociopaths through the years. I just didn’t know at the time that that was what they were. If only I’d learned of this book sooner.

Here, now, rather than re-inventing the wheel as I have been apt to do before, is a satisfying summary of Stout’s treatise, from Publisher’s Weekly:

[Dr.] Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. As Stout (The Myth of Sanity) explains, a sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse. Such people often have a superficial charm, which they exercise ruthlessly in order to get what they want. Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient. Dramatic as these tales are, they are composites, and while Stout is a good writer and her exploration of sociopaths can be arresting, this book occasionally appeals to readers’ paranoia, as the book’s title and its guidelines for dealing with sociopaths indicate.

I can see why they would feel compelled to add the last sentence to their review. I mean, the book’s title is pretty inflammatory if you were prone to even a smidgen of paranoia. However, 25 percent? Those are pretty solid odds in favor of everyone at some point having a run-in with a person who fits the sociopath profile. Knowing the signs by reading a book like this? That could make all the difference to your protection. Again, I wish I’d encountered this book a long time ago. Could have saved me a whole heap of trouble.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely going to keep the book (that’s right, I’ve finally read one of my own books!), but I also know a couple of people I’m going to lend it to. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate the information.

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