An enjoyable, breezy treatment of a provocative subject.

THE WISDOM OF PSYCHOPATHS

WHAT SAINTS, SPIES, AND SERIAL KILLERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT SUCCESS

Psychopaths who commit violent crimes are at one end of a spectrum that also includes solid citizens.

That’s the contention of Dutton (Split-Second Persuasion, 2010, etc.), a research psychologist at Cambridge. Psychopathic killers have the “consummate ability” to disguise their true nature, he writes, while “behind the façade—the brutal, brilliant disguise—beats the refrigerated heart of a ruthless, glacial predator.” The capability to act under stress with cool determination is a characteristic they share with “surgeons, soldiers, spies, entrepreneurs [and] lawyers.” Dutton hazards the guess that a small helping of one particular psychopathic quality can confer surprising benefits for society as well as the individual. The quality in question is the ability to detach from one's emotions in order to make purely rational decisions. Willingness to take calculated risks, coupled with a charming demeanor, can lead to success in the boardroom as well as the bedroom. The author distinguishes between the “hot empathy” of the I-feel-your-pain average personality and the “cold empathy” that sniffs out levers by which to manipulate people’s vulnerabilities. He cites research using psychological profiling tests and fMRI brain scans, which establish a ranking of individuals by profession and personality type, to make his case that there is a “neuropsychological continuum.” Dutton interviewed con men and killers in prison, top surgeons and a childhood friend who works for MI5, among others. He also submitted himself to an experiment that damped down a region of his brain linked to emotional response, leaving him with what he describes as a “subjective moral swagger” that he associates with a psychopathic mindset. Arguing that society today overemphasizes winner-take-all competitiveness, Dutton worries that this may push more people toward the psychopathic end of the spectrum and lead to a greater rate of violence.

An enjoyable, breezy treatment of a provocative subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-29135-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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