22 of 52 – The Sociopath Next Door

Cover of "The Sociopath Next Door"

Cover of The Sociopath Next Door

I’ve just finished The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

It wasn’t unlike The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, which was another very good book about a similar personality disorder. I may have actually enjoyed this one more. Martha Stout isn’t as funny as Jon Ronson, but she’s incredibly informative and pulls her explanations from a long history of counseling the victims of sociopaths. She profiles many sociopathic archetypes, from the business tycoon who’s pushed many people down to get where he is to the lay-about moocher. She tells stories of how it’s really hard to know someone really. She also goes into the research around what makes a sociopath, to what extent is it genetic, and also where we as humans obtain conscience.

In all I really enjoyed the book. It is full of information you probably didn’t know, and is easily understandable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in personality disorders or conscience/morality.

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