Psychological profiles of the “despots, tyrants, and terrorists [who] have been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people.”
In his latest, science writer Haycock (Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil, 2014) takes on the big nasties with fascinating portraits of history’s greatest villains, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hussein, Idi Amin, bin Laden, and Kim Jong-un. He emphasizes that intelligence services of all major governments work hard analyzing foreign leaders, an ad hoc process that proceeds without adequate data or personal interviews—and often across cultural barriers. As the author writes, it’s “a practice that tries to merge two ‘soft’ sciences, psychology and political science, into a tool that can provide the ability to understand, and more importantly, predict, the behavior of foreign leaders.” Apparently, very few dictators were actually psychotic, except perhaps Idi Amin. All showed common unpleasant personality traits but so intensely that psychologists have named them the “Dark Factors of Personality” or D-factors. These include Machiavellianism (use of deception, lying, and exploitation), narcissism (an inflated image of oneself), sadism, callousness, absence of empathy, and spitefulness. Haycock is no historian; his biographies skim the surface, but he has done his psychology homework, so readers will receive a painless education in the elements of human personality, especially when it becomes pathological. Those curious about how this applies to today’s leaders will receive a jolt when the author turns his attention to Donald Trump, devoting a large portion of the book to the current president. Haycock and his experts are not the first to detect in the president more than the average degrees of narcissism, a love of autocrats, a hatred of critics, and a distressing lack of empathy, but they have little to add.
A compelling analysis of the mental processes of notable tyrants that eventually gets bogged down under the weight of Trump.