The memoir of a neuroscientist whose research led him to a bizarre personal discovery, James Fallon had spent an entire career studying how our brains affect our behavior when his research suddenly turned personal.
While studying brain scans of several family members, he discovered that one perfectly matched a pattern he’d found in the brains of serial killers. This meant one of two things: Either his family’s scans had been mixed up with those of felons or someone in his family was a psychopath. Even more disturbing: The scan in question was his own. This is Fallon’s account of coming to grips with this discovery and its implications.
How could he, a happy family man who had never been prone to violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior? Fallon shares his journey to answer these questions and the discoveries that ultimately led to his conclusion: Despite everything science can teach, humans are even more complex than we can imagine.
©2013 James Fallon (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC
“As comprehensive as it is compelling, essential listening for understanding the genetic and neuroscience underpinnings of psychopathy.” (M. E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath)
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
I found Fallon at times the slightest bit self-indulgent (should we expect otherwise, given the theme?), but, for the most part, this is an interesting and entertaining book. If you want something more serious and scientific, read Without Conscience or The Science Of Evil, but this book serves nicely for an up-to-date primer for the neurology of psychopathy, and it also serves its purpose well: the story of one man's dealing with the realization that he has the brain structure and innate tendencies of the very people he has been studying for years: the psychopath.
The book itself is interesting on several levels. It tells the story of a successful Professor who stumbled across the finding that his brain resembled those of psychopaths and serial killers. In researching himself he also discovered murderers in his extended family tree.
The underlying neuroscience of psychopathy was presented in lightning fast speed that was hard to follow in the audible version, even for someone like myself who is a physician. I ended up buying the printed book so I could reread those sections and look at the images and diagrams.
One particularly useful point in the book is his distinction between psychopathic and antisocial. His brain was psychopathic but his behavior was not antisocial. I regard this as a meaningful and helpful distinction.
Professor Fallon's personal story was fascinating if more than a trace narcissistic. I also had the sense that he greatly minimized some of his peccadillos in the middle of the book while alluding to greater indiscretions toward the end.
The subtextual question of nature versus nurture runs through the book. Professor Fallon's bias is toward the nature explanation, stating that 80% of who we are is determined by our inborn biology and the structure of our brain. At the end he does leave the door open to the possibility that it was the nurturing tolerance of and containment of his youthful adventurous escapades by his understanding parents that shepherded his psychopathic brain into a productive life with only minimal misbehavior.
This is a fun book to listen to for an aerial view of the topic. It will be sufficient for most readers. The more serious student of the topic will need to pursue it elsewhere but this is an entertaining start.
What distinguishes this book from others is its first-person perspective - on occasion, you realize that the guy talking to you is, in fact, a psychopath. With the behavior, the narcissism and the expectations of one.
That he can explain the workings of the brain as an expert provides a valuable theoretical backdrop. But this book stands out because we start out rooting for the author because we are embarking on a personal journey with him, until his choices leave us disappointed over and over again - just like we are dealing with a psychopath.
If you are interested in the subject matter, do not miss this book.
After hearing this wonderfully fun, insightful, scary book, the question that lingers is: Who is his wife?? Wow! The woman has the patience of a saint!
Now, because I've just spent two years in a relationship with a man who has the same kind of brain that James Fallon has, I have personal experience at how "trying" it can be! I have read all the "Psychopathy" books, and found them okay, except that they demonized the "disorder." They encouraged me to delete this man from my life. Completely. "No Contact!" They all screamed at me.
I tried, but he wouldn't let me go... (just as those books predicted!) And I couldn't delete him from my brain or my heart no matter how hard I tried! No matter how bad I knew he was for me. And it really pissed me off! ;^)) Because he's impossible! But he's also funny, smart, charming - like so many psychopaths!
So I wanted to find a way to "understand" what was going on with him, and James Fallon's book gave me exactly what I needed. Fallon explains the brain structures that compel the person (usually male) to be an extreme thrill seeker, drinker, druggie.. and many other lovely "anti-social" things that even James Fallon won't describe. Be that as it may, the take-away from this book is that "his brain" is needed in our species's DNA mix. And I think he's right.
He's given me another way to deal with the "personality disorder" that I love. Now, I can decide what I want to do with him from a less charged and far less judgmental perspective. I know he will never change. All I needed from the relationship was to learn to love unconditionally.
James's wife, who's known James since he was 12, must have an over-soul who reminds her of his inner goodness. Learning to love someone unconditionally is more difficult than people realize. James's wife has done it! I doubt that I have the same patience.
Sometimes the neuroscience feels info-dump-y, and the last chapter or more is a bit drawn out, but the guy admits he's a narcissistic psychopath so what do you expect? The book is a solid, mostly convincing self-analysis by someone with practice going from brain scans + genetic tests to a description of personality. He paces it well, giving you a real understanding of how he viewed himself before, during, and after he slowly realized the extent and nature of his differences from people around him.
The book shows how the psychopath sees his world, morality and relationships. Motivation for their behavior is discussed and real life examples presented. The first part of the book was endless detail that could have used allot of editing and a slowing down of the hypo manic speed at which it was read. However, the second part of the book gave meaning to the details and, although the second part of the book needed editing for the encyclopedia scientific details presented, it came together in the personal commentary and personal evaluation at the end of the book. In the end, it was a worthwhile read because you can see an honest appraisal of the feeling and behavior of a psychopath as they experience and see it.
The chapter links do not work - click on a chapter link you'll get a completely different chapter. Also, the reader's voice did not fit with the material. I found it off putting and annoying to say the least. The content itself is fascinating and well-written. Honest as well.
Excellent blend between Neuroscience and the author's personal analysis of his life. However, the reader was very mechanical and I found myself having to focus to follow the story.
Very thoughtful look at the possibility of an organic factor in personality disorders.
I like the focus of this book and I hope more research is done into this topic.
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