Friday, 28 March 2014

The Psychopath Inside / James Fallon

3 out of 5 stars
The Psychopath Inside tells the fascinating story of Fallon’s reaction to the discovery that he has the brain of a psychopath. While researching serial murderers, he uncovered a distinct neurological pattern in their brain scans that helped explain their cold and violent behavior. A few months later he learned that he was descended from a family with a long line of murderers which confirmed that Fallon’s own brain pattern wasn’t a fluke.
As a scientist convinced that humans are shaped by their genetics, Fallon set out to reconcile the truth about his brain with everything he knew about the mind, behavior, and the influence of nature vs. nurture on our personalities. How could he, a successful scientist and a happy family man with no history of violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior? Was he capable of some of the gruesome atrocities perpetrated by the serial killers he had studied?

Combining his personal experience with scientific analysis, Fallon shares his journey and the discoveries that ultimately led him to understand that, despite everything science can teach us, humans are even more complex than we can imagine.

My thoughts on the book:

An interesting read, always bearing in mind that the author is potentially unreliable. He says so himself in many places in the book. Can you trust a psychopath, even a psychopath lite (as this author refers to himself), to give you the straight goods?

Obviously, Fallon is interested in both protecting his professional reputation and in writing an interesting book that will make money. In some ways, these two desires are in conflict--revealing your psychopathic tendencies isn't the passport to professional recognition. But playing both ends against the middle is a game of risk that it seems he can't resist, totally in keeping with his self-diagnosis.

As I say, an interesting book, but not one to take at face value--read it with a critical mind and don't believe everything he says about himself. He makes a lot of excuses and dismisses a lot of the harm he has inflicted on those around him. The science bits are probably the most reliable, but I've given only 3 stars because the writing is not exceptional and I get the distinct impression that the author is being a weasel about the personal parts of the book (apologies to real weasels, I actually like them a lot). I've known several people whom I have suspected of psychopathy and this book gave me a tiny window into their interior lives (or lack thereof).

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

My Best Book of February 2014

I haven't got a whole lot of reading done in February, being very busy at work and getting ready for a birding trip.  But of the books I did get to, this one is at the top of the heap.

Chris Hadfield seems like a guy it would be fun to have coffee with.  He appears to have written the book himself and I can hear his voice when I read the pages.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, check out his music video from the space station, his cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity.