This was not a very good book. Having listened to several audiobooks about psychopaths, notably Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door and Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, I think the lesson learned here is that journalists are better writers than academics.
Criminal psychologist Robert Hare is famous for having devised the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is referenced several times by Stout and Ronson. However, in this book he spends entirely too much time talking about how much research he's done and how clever he is to have formulated this unique way of studying and understanding psychopaths, yet the actual evidence he cites is largely anecdotal and even speculative at times. I started to doubt the doc's credibility about the third time he used fictional characters (e.g., Hannibal Lecter, Buffalo Bill) to make a point.
He does this throughout Without Conscience: he will describe psychopathic behavior, and then use a sensationalist example, often from a movie! He talks about psychopaths as if they are monsters who are practically a separate species. Granted, many psychopaths, even those who aren't murderers, are monsters. But it hardly seems useful or truly serving the cause of truthful inquiry to dwell on how horrible psychopaths are, using serial killers as the primary examples, even though Hare himself admits that serial killers are an extreme minority of psychopaths, rather than addressing more interesting and informative questions like how to identify psychopaths and what to do about them.
Martha Stout and Jon Ronson cover much the same ground, and while of course they talk about the most spectacular, cruel, and flamboyant psychopaths as well — serial killers, bigamists, con-men, etc. — they do both more entertainingly and with a little more sense of balance, addressing the fact that most psychopaths, while horrible people to deal with, live fairly ordinary lives (often miserable ones), doing as much damage to themselves as others. Whereas Hare seems to want everyone to hire a professional like himself and apply the Hare Psychopathy Checklist whenever you suspect you're dealing with a psychopath, which could be anyone who exhibits any psychopathic behaviors.
Here is where Hare's book also seems to flounder: he uses many examples of psychopathic behavior, and conflates them with psychopaths. Rapists, for example, are "often" psychopaths, he says. Yet while noting that not all rapists are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are rapists, Hare then goes on to describe rape as a crime that is typical of a psychopathic mindset, the extreme lack of empathy for others, the lack of impulse control, etc. Okay, and? What does this actually tell us about the relationship between rape and psychopathy?
He makes vague assertions about how various crimes, from stock market manipulation to government fraud and abuse to violent crime, "may" be the result of psychopaths, and that this is evident of the massive social and economic damage psychopaths do. Well, yes, I'm sure a lot of Wall Street predators and street-level grifters and conniving, bad people everywhere in-between are psychopaths, but not all of them, so just how many are and what is the measurable contribution of psychopaths to our social ills? It's impossible to say, but Hare just hints that psychopaths are becoming more common, as evidenced by how much "worse" society is getting - again, with no evidence.
The few chapters that were interesting and informative were those that talked about what makes a psychopath's brain different — they seem to often have linguistic mannerisms like misusing words or inventing neologisms, and they also seem to often have poor impulse control, an inability to control themselves even when they may be very smart and quite capable of foreseeing the consequences of their actions. This would also explain why psychopaths tend to get caught out eventually, whether they are serial killers or just that lying manipulator in your office who's always telling stories behind people's back.
Hare does not offer much hope for the treatment of psychopaths, since he points out the condition seems to start in childhood, if not at birth, and no form of behavioral therapy actually changes them: at best, you might convince a psychopath to "play by the rules" so long as they are convinced it's in their best interests.
Overall, while there were some interesting bits and a very comprehensive description of psychopathy, Without Conscience appeared to me to be scientifically weak, too much a vehicle for Robert Hare to promote himself and his work, and not as good as other books that have covered the same subject.
This guy is the father of all this type of research. He created the PCL-R!! What more to say. All points made are always backed with the statement, 'for example...' The examples are great and get right to the point.
It took me forever to get through this book. With the final sentence ended I asked myself what I had learned. The only real insight was a 10-minute section on the difficulty psychopaths have with sequencing and story-telling. Fascinating. But overall, I found the information gleaned to be rather superficial and skewed almost entirely to criminality. In addition, Boehmer's narration was rather snooty throughout. He added authentic sarcasm where it was clear that the author was condescending to his colleagues or when quoting actual psychopaths. But by the end, I was over the whole "smartest guy in the room" feel that I got from the author and especially as it was narrated.
Robert Hare is the self-proclaimed inventor of the Psychopathy Checklist. But that is the one thing missing from this audio book - the actual check list. And so he ends the book by saying that if you are a victim of a psychopath, educate yourself and seek professional help - which is probably what many people thought they were doing when buying this book. Hmm.
I'm a bibliophile since early childhood. Love speculative fiction, odd premises, mystery novels that teach about different places and times.
This is the book all the other books refer to on this subject, so I'm assuming it was written first. The writer is very impressed with himself, and that wears thin rather soon. He also repeats himself more than is really called for.
But he gives some fascinating scientific answers and inquiries into what makes a Sociopath what he is. It's still a classic in the field.
The subject, psychopathy, is well described but I found the narration irritating and difficult to listen to. The reader is painfully slow and maintains a constant timber: he uses commas as full stops, like a period, which makes the reading jerky. The writing uses common language and is easy to understand so there is no reason for such a slow delivery. This is definitely something to listen at double speed!
Audible: These banal questions for a review are horrible. Anyway, this book is certainly interesting - and the author is intelligent and thorough on the topic. However his constant digressions about "runaway juvenile violent crime" and "unprecedented criminality" painting a picture of an epidemic of psychopathy are neither accurate or honest.
Perhaps the original mid-90s publishing date can excuse this, but crime on the US and Canada, where the author has been drawing his anecdotes, has been drastically decreasing - not increasing - over the past two decades. This is especially true of violent crime.
While all starts well, when he turns the focus towards children at the end, his well thought out dissection of psychopathy takes on the clueless, uninformed tone of the frustrated parents he showcases - drawing way too many examples from film, TV and pop culture to be taken seriously. It's a damn shame, since he does begin to touch upon the true scourge psychopathy has wrought on society in the form of white collar criminals, con men and manipulators. However, he ends sounding like the narrator from a 1950s Reefer Madness short.
Redundant question, Audible.
Again, this review format is atrocious and horribly thought out. This is a non fiction book.
Interesting nonetheless. A worthwhile listen despite its flaws.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
While Dr. Hare is the authority on psychopaths, and I gained a full understanding of what a psychopath is from his book, I found that his research dealt much more with the criminal element. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout was more helpful to me, as it covers more of the day to day people we are in contact with every day . . . the ones we work with and for, go to school with and unfortunately have personal relationships with. I can now spot one a mile away. Wish I knew then what I know now . . .
I absolutely can not stand the idea that people are reading this book and going away thinking that they have learned something.
The conclusions that Dr. Hare have reached are based on an extremely limited sample, using an incomplete analysis and without a contemporary understanding of neuroscience. I had to stop listening when he referred to the lateralization of brain hemispheres (right brain does this, left brain does that) as a fact, when it has been debunked as a myth since the early 90s.
I do have respect for Dr. Hare in that he was, at one point, a pioneer in the study of clinical psychopathy, in that he actually went out and tried to study people who were obviously afflicted. But his theories need to evolve with current research if he is to be taken seriously. What outside research he did call upon in the book was limited and obviously cherry-picked to support his own outdated theories. That is no behavior for a man calling himself a scientist.