In his first book, Arnold develops an esoteric explanation for why some people grow up to do terrible things: postnatal depression in their mothers, which Arnold identifies as the cause of narcissistic and psychopathic behavior in children on into adulthood.
Arnold’s hypothesis relies heavily on the belief that most negative behavior—from homicidal rage, to greed, to simple bullying—is a result of narcissistic inclinations within the aggressor. This hypothesis is shared to varying degrees by a large subset of the psychiatric community, but there is little consensus about what causes a person to become a narcissist—a gap Arnold attempts to fill with his book. He believes that children born to mothers suffering from postnatal depression are deprived of the attention they desperately crave in their first years of life. According to Arnold, their depressed mothers ignore them until they act out; in turn, the baby associates negative behavior with motherly attention. As they grow up, their behavior becomes increasingly malignant because their brains have been hardwired from an early age to associate destruction with affection. In order to prove his theory, Arnold looks at various dictators, murderers and psychopaths from throughout history and attempts to explore the relationships they had with their mothers. This work takes up an intriguing, urgent subject but does it without much appreciation for scholarly principles. Ideas are illustrated and purportedly proven with anecdotes, assumptions, conjecture and wild leaps of logic, but rarely with facts, figures or expert opinions. In some cases, the work doesn’t even go into the test cases’ upbringings, thereby ignoring the central hypothesis. Also, a strain of misogyny runs throughout. The theory essentially identifies mothers as the root of all evil and displays a maddeningly shallow understanding of postnatal depression, calling out feminists, career women and prostitutes in unnecessary and curiously vitriolic asides: “Apparently [Anders Behring] Breivik’s mother was a feminist and this could have contributed towards her feelings—or lack of them—towards her son.” Arnold has clearly thought about his ideas plenty, but the way they’re presented here will not convince anyone, especially the experts.
Targets dozens of important questions but will frustrate even patient readers.