Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sunday Book Review: August 3, 2014: The Psychopath Whisperer

Madame L found this book in her local library---after being put on a "Hold" waiting list for several weeks---and highly recommends it to any of her Dear Readers who are interested, as Madame L is, in these people who lie, steal, assault, and kill, all without conscience or remorse.

In fact, the subtitle of the book is "The Science of Those Without Conscience," which describes those people we call psychopaths as well as those we call sociopaths very well.

Madame L has been reading up on the subject in an attempt to understand these people, but what she has found is that, as Walter Kirn wrote in "Blood Will Out," it's impossible to know what goes on in their minds. In fact, Kirn said in a post-publication interview:
As a writer it was my good fortune [to know Christian Gerhartsreiter]. As a person it was my bad fortune. As a writer, it gave me insight. But no one would voluntarily spend this time with a psychopath. No one would voluntarily let their life get enmeshed with a murderer or someone capable of chopping up a body and burying it. It was truly traumatic to realize I was somebody whose weakness for a good story and whose ability to tell a story to himself, really put himself in danger.

The author of "The Psychopath Whisperer," Kent A. Kiehl, PhD, is the first author on this subject that Madame L has read who is really qualified to write on the topic, as he has spent his entire career, beginning as a graduate student, trying to figure out why these people do what they do.

And, guess what: For those who can really be called psychopaths, it does come down to a difference in the brain structure. Psychopaths have reduction of grey matter in the paralimbic system, which leaves them with no empathy. 

Here's a YouTube video featuring Dr. Kiehl, who is now at the University of New Mexico.

But what makes this book worth reading is not only the information on the human brain and how it affects our emotions and behavior, but all the incidental facts and stories from Dr. Kiehl's career. And this works because Dr. Kiehl is a good writer. He knows how to tell a story, for sure---beginning with his first day at a maximum-security prison where he began his studies---and on through even details about brain-imagining machinery which most other authors would make boring beyond belief.

(The grammarian in Madame L hastens to add that Dr. Kiehl knows how to write a complete sentence with good grammar and correct spelling. Amazing! This is the first book Madame L has read in a very long time which did not tempt her constantly to be making editing notes in the margins.)

And here's a YouTube video with more information about differences in the brains of psychopaths: