The Psychopath Whisperer (Review)

Normally, I would have passed the book by with barely any acknowledgement of it. During my regular visit to the Norfolk  (Nebraska) Public Library, the yellow spine of the book caught my eye. With curious trepidation, I slipped The Psychopath Whisperer–The Science Of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl, Ph.D. off the shelf. I flipped through a couple of pages, at random, then decided to borrow it.PsychopathWhisperer-01

I haven’t taken much of an interest in psychopathic individuals, aside from news reports of horrific crimes and sensationalized movies. Basically, the subject of psychopathy sort of creeps me out. A new friend, though, piqued my interest this year, because she knows a great deal about the subject.

Stereotypes of psychopaths appear in popular culture in the form of an anti-hero or villain in a thriller or murder mystery. We may be presented a larger than life serial killer, con artist, or corporate executive. Even though there might be some overlap between Hollywood depictions of psychopaths and real-life individuals, psychopathy is much more complex than we’ve been led to believe.

Dr. Kiehl presents his own experience and peer-reviewed research into the subject of psychopathic individuals. The text is fast-paced and filled with personal asides that draw the reader into Kiehl’s groundbreaking scientific findings.

Honestly, I had imagined the book would be a dryly written tome that I’d have to plod through. I figured I’d be lucky to get even halfway through it. That notion was quickly put to rest after I slipped into the first chapter.

In Chapter 1, “Maximum Security”, the author describes his first four days as a freshman undergraduate, undertaking his first interviews of inmates at a maximum security prison in British Columbia. The reader is given a glimpse of what Kiehl went through and how he felt. The author ran through a mental gauntlet as he became oriented into the surroundings at the facility at Abbotsville, 60-miles away from Vancouver.

The inmate interview stories are personal and mostly free of technical jargon. His contacts during the first four days revealed much of the prisoners’ backgrounds and criminal histories. As you can imagine, the stories are quite compelling. I enjoyed the opening chapter of the book immensely and I knew that it was only the appetizer for what was to come.

Psychopath Whisperer is one of the better non-fiction books I’ve come across this year. The book is written in lay-friendly language. The story reveals the behind the scenes activity involved in the work of an accomplished and energetic scientist. The backbone of the story is that of how fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) came to be used to diagnose psychopathy.

We find out about the criminal backgrounds of dangerous, convicted felons. Their stories dominate the case histories, because prison inmates are more readily available and cooperative than are people, at large, in normal life settings. In the telling, Dr. Kiehl presents us with a memoir regarding his own career.

PsychopathWhisperer-02As of the book’s publication, Kent Kiehl, Ph.D is a professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Law at the University of New Mexico. He has authored over 100 scientific articles that have been printed in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Kent also serves as the Executive Science Officer of the Mind Research Network. That organization continues to research the utilization of fMRI to better understand mental illness.

Psychopath Whisperer explains some of what causes a mind to become criminal. The reader will find comparisons and contrasts with epilepsy, psychosis, and schizophrenia. We get a peek into the biological basis of psychopathy. The author presents diagrams of the brain and where the brain variants appear. I was rather disappointed that a key to the parts of the brain was not printed in the book. I had to extrapolate and approximate, where the text indicated abnormalities to be. I don’t think many of us laypersons are familiar with the Korbinian Brodmann labeling system. The lack presented a distraction for this reader.

The case for our awareness of the serious nature of psychopathic behavior is presented early in the book. Dr. Kiehl reminds us that a psychopath is born into the world every 47 seconds. Some types of group therapy apparently make psychopaths more likely to commit new crimes compared to those who receive no treatment. Psychopaths are six times likelier to commit more crimes after release from prison.

Psychopath Whisperer presents portrayals of psychopathic individuals with an understandable explanation of the cutting-edge research and technology used to diagnose the mental condition. Dr. Kiehl hopes to discover symptoms of the disorder in adolescents in an effort to alleviate destructive behavior before the kids mature into adulthood.

This book is a good introduction for the layman, who is interested in the topic of psychopathy. I feel like I have been given some much needed insight about the condition. I think that if I was much younger, I’d be motivated to investigate this field as a serious career option. Anyone who wishes to move beyond talk show and pop-psychology presentations of psychopathy, will find Psychopath Whisperer to be a helpful resource.

{ Psychopath Whisperer–The Science Of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl, Ph.D.; published in 2014 by Crown, a division of Random House; ISBN: 978-0-7704-3584-4 }

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness found a chilling quote by an anonymous psychopath. “Never let the other person take you for granted. Use absence, create pain, and conflict to keep the seduced on tenterhooks.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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4 Responses to The Psychopath Whisperer (Review)

  1. I found The Sociopath Next Door useful and well written – author’s name eludes me.

  2. Alas, the reviewer appears to be among those who are fooled by this pseudo-scientific work, of an author who has tried to promote his concept unsuccessfully for more than 25 years. Please re-read the chapter on the grudging acknowledgement that the psychiatric profession has yet to accept the concept of psychopathy as such. But also consider the following glaring errors. Are men’s brains and women’s brains really that different? If so, is a woman a psychopath only when she meets the male criteria? What of gays? Who was black, who Hispanic among his subjects?
    I had the pleasure of debunking similar practitioners in the 1970s, when the vogue was the use of psychosurgery to root out sexual aggression, and race riots.
    Gabe Kaimowitz

    • swabby429 says:

      Thank you for your remarks. As a layman, I appreciate more expert input on books and subjects that pique my interest. I’m certainly not immune to the offerings of the perveyors of psuedo-science. When I post a book review, I hope for comments like yours, because there is no way that I can scientifically prove or disprove the claims of various writers. I can only pass along my impressions about content and the books “readability”. I certainly do not wish to knowingly promote psuedo-science. I’ll look into your suggestions.

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