Bizarrely captivating look at the terrifying mental disorder of psychopathy, the difficulty of its treatment and the...

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THE PSYCHOPATH TEST

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MADNESS INDUSTRY

From the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats (2005), another readable, entertaining excursion into extreme territory.

London-based journalist Ronson delves into the realm of mental illness, traveling to the notorious British facility Broadmoor to meet “Tony,” who claimed to have successfully “faked” madness—he feigned a disorder to avoid jail for a violent assault, and has been held ever since despite his protests. Psychiatrists assured Ronson that Tony was not insane, but psychopathic, a distinction that led the journalist to Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, who developed a “checklist” of personality traits to reveal psychopaths (who are by definition glib and deceptive). Ronson interviewed Hare and took his seminar. Hare contends that “psychopaths are quite incurable” due to brain abnormalities, and that his research provides the best methods for rooting them out. Hare’s seminar suggests that the detached sadism and lack of empathy which criminal psychopaths demonstrate can be seen in the wider world, where they cause great harm despite being only 1 percent of the population. “Serial killers ruin families,” he says. “Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies.” With this notion in mind, Ronson experienced chilling encounters with a Haitian death-squad leader and with Al Dunlap, a corporate raider who took great joy in firing people. Although the book’s various strands don’t fully coalesce, they remain engaging; Ronson is skilled at handling disturbing subject matter and difficult interview subjects with breezy insouciance. Yet the undertones are disturbing: While society seems unable to stop true psychopaths before they inflict major damage, Ronson argues that disturbed people like Tony essentially become “nothing more than a big splurge of madness in the minds of the people who benefit from it.” The author’s critique of these individuals within the mental-health industry will surely attract controversy. 

Bizarrely captivating look at the terrifying mental disorder of psychopathy, the difficulty of its treatment and the professional infrastructure surrounding it.

Pub Date: May 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59448-801-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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