The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon (audio)

the-psychopath-insideI was debating about whether or not to review The Psychopath Inside here because instead of reading it, I listened to it. This is a bit of a new experience for me, to start and FINISH an audio book, but finish it I did. I’ve been toying around with audio books for almost a year, but haven’t found my groove until now.

James Fallon is a neuroscientist at the University of California. While flipping through a pile of brain scans he came across one that he recognized to be very psychopath-like. After further investigation, it turned out to be his. The Psychopath Inside recounts Fallon’s search for meaning in this discovery. It lead him to change his mind regarding his attitude to the nature vs. nurture debate and come to face some pretty horrifying facts regarding his own personality.

So basically, the book is fascinating. The audio version was particularly gripping due to the dispassionate voice of the narrator. Just like a a psychopath, he reveals very little emotion throughout reading when I would be freaking out. It is all very level headed and truly startling.

At times, I must admit, the book drifted into some fairly difficult jargon. Fortunately I was able to let that wash over me with limited comprehension and it did not effect my over all enjoyment of the book.

Who would like this book? I am fascinated by the brain and how little we actually understand about it. Throw that together with a little psychopathy and you’ve got a recipe for a book that will enthrall me. Like The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (review), The Psychopath Inside shows how little understand about psychopathy. Not all psychopaths are killers or even predators. Some are brilliant leaders, business people and regular Joes. This books looks at how different factors like environment and genetics come together to make us who we are, psychopathic or not.

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The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

psychoCan I just start of by saying that I love Jon Ronson? It’s something you should know. I mostly know him through his appearances on This American Life, the CBC and BBC, and his TED talk. The Psychopath Test is actually the first book by him that I’ve read. Not surprisingly, it was fascinating, but it wasn’t really what I expected. Based on all the media he had done when the book first came out way back in 2011, I had thought that the book was largely going to be about the Psychopath Test, its development and uses. Not so. Really, it is a series of stories dealing with either the mentally ill, psychopaths or the Psychopath Test to varying degrees. Ronson, is after all a journalist, and this appears to be an attempt to string together some marginally related stories into a book length treatment. Just over half the book is really about psychopathy, the rest is marginal.

Fortunately for Ronson, the loose framework of the book did not deter from my enjoyment of it (though I did spend the first chapter wondering how it was related to psychopathy). Ronson is a natural born story teller. Here he weaves together a wonderful narrative that includes his many anxieties, through the lens of the Psychopath Test, that he is now authorized to administer. This new power skews the way he sees people around him, especially people he is interviewing. Are they psychopaths?

Interestingly enough, the study of psychopathy has a fir bit of Can-con (that’s Canadian content) in its history. The test itself was developed by a Canadian and before that Canadians were leaders in some very controversial psychopathy research.

Who would like this book? This book is a fascinating and not too challenging read. I like my non-fiction to have a healthy dose of storytelling to it, and in that respect Ronson delivers. If you are looking for a hardcore study of psychopathy this is not it. Most if what is contained inside is anecdotal. Remember, Ronson is a journalist, not a psychologist. A more hard hitting look at psychopathy around us may be Snakes in Suits by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare. I say that not because I’ve read it, but because the authors are noted psychopathy researchers.