College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
tell me how to avoid getting taken advantage of (like the moronic How To Deal With Difficult People) and the worse than useless In Sheep's Clothing), I decided to take a look at the opposite end of the problem--the manipulators themselves: a much better idea, as it turns out. Without Conscience provides a nicely developed portrait of the psychopath, people born without the ability to empathize and register normal human feelings, even though they can imitate them convincingly enough to con and abuse others. (There are an estimated 2 million psychopaths among us in the US, and they are not to be confused with their most extreme representative: the serial killer. Chances are you know or have known a psychopath.) The neurology represented in this book is a bit behind the current wisdom and for better information about the brain's role in psychopathy, one might read The Science Of Evil and The Tell-Tale Brain. Overall, Without Conscience is a very useful book for understanding the serious manipulator and how to deal with him/her.
A dozen years ago, Robert Putnam released what has become a classic in sociology: Bowling Alone. In this book, Putnam lamented how technology was distancing people from one another and how it was wearing down the natural tendency of people to interact in face-to-face, interpersonal ways: at church socials, book discussion groups, bowling leagues. Now Matthew Lieberman is using the fairly new but ever burgeoning (and tremendously popular!) science of neuro-imaging to show that Putnam was right: we need each other. The book holds up pretty well and remains interesting throughout, and it is cool to know what parts of the brain are associated with social interactions (and this is why I purchased the book) but the one caveat might be that it is somewhat guilty of what Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield (authors of Brainwashed) call "neuro-redundancy," that is, using neuroscience to state the obvious. (Witness Kayt Sukel's This Is Your Brain On Sex...we learn that orgasms light up the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain: in short, we learn that orgasms feel good and people are motivated to have them...DUH!) Any good sociology textbook will show a plethora of plausible reasons why people need people (and why they are the luckiest people of all!), and the neo-Darwinians (Wilson, Pinker, Wright, et. al) have been going on for some time about how evolution has "hard-wired" us to be social. Okay, people need other people: that part is a "no-brainer." Still, the book is interesting from a scientific level if not so much from a sociological one. So get the 411 on your brain on social interaction here...and then read Putnam's classic Bowling Alone...
Up front, it has to be said that this is not the most in-depth book you can read on the brain or neuroplasticity, but that is not the point. The thing that makes this book imiportant is that it furthers the growing work that shows that we have the power to modify our own brains by modifying our own thinking and behavior and that this, in fact, works better in the long run than cramming more psychotropic drugs down our gullets for every little mental complaint. (No one is suggesting that drugs be eliminated for serious cases!) It moves from the brain as machine idea of the functionalists and reintroduces free will and personal empowerment and responsibility to the picture. Read this along with the work of Jeffery Schwartz, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goldman.