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Cold-Blooded Kindness Hardcover – 15 Jun 2011

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Riveting and disturbing, an investigation into American-heartland pathos in which 'guilt', 'innocence', 'victim', 'perpetrator', come to seem almost hopelessly tangled. Barbara Oakley is to be commended upon looking so hard, and so closely, at the motives, in some, that underlie acts of 'kindness' and 'altruism'--suggesting that things are not always as they appear, and the phrase killed with kindness springs from the absolute bedrock of folk wisdom." --Joyce Carol Oates, Professor of the Arts at Princeton University, is a recipient of the National Book Award for her novel them, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

"Cold-Blooded Kindness is a terrific book. It combines old-fashioned narrative skills with new insights from science and a tough-minded view of good and evil that is neither sentimental nor cynical." --Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate.

"This true-crime tale is as oxymoronic as the title suggests: An animal-loving mother of four kills her husband execution-style. Oakley studs the book with input from experts on battered women, altruism, and empathy gone awry. Her approach taps another paradox: We can understand genetic influences and remain baffled by any one human's behavior. Read this if you're convinced people are never who they appear to be." --Psychology Today

"Truly a tour de force. Barbara Oakley couples the story-telling gifts of a born novelist with the insights of a sophisticated neuroscientist. Beginning with a sensational crime, Cold-Blooded Kindness gradually pulls back to reveal labyrinthine depths of duplicity conducted on a grand public scale. I alternated between shivering in horror and laughing out loud. This book is a murder mystery, a case study in social pathology, an artist's biography, a courtroom drama, and a scientific detective story all at once. A lot is at stake: human decency; the integrity of the legal system; and the powers of science to illuminate human behavior in its strangest and darkest forms. Cold-Blooded Kindness is a triumphant achievement." --Joseph Carroll, Curators' professor of English, University of Missouri, St. Louis; author of Evolution and Literary Theory and Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

"Barbara Oakley has written the most ambitious kind of true crime book, one that goes beyond a story well told and takes the lid off the simmering conditions and psychopathology that cook up into a tragic killing. There are haunting warnings for all of us in Cold-Blooded Kindness, as well as a fundamental truth: Homicide is self-will run riot--even if it wears a smiley face." --Lowell Cauffiel, New York Times bestselling author of House of Secrets

About the Author

Barbara A. Oakley, PhD (Rochester, MI), is the acclaimed author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. She has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones--her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from Private to Regular Army Captain in the US Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world's largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa1874c9c) out of 5 stars 28 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa18a35dc) out of 5 stars When a victim isn't a victim 28 Nov. 2011
By Harrison Koehli - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There really isn't another book like this. Oakley has written on a subject that few, if any, have touched on before, at least not in this level of detail: the pathological manipulator as 'victim'. As she tells in the book, the original intent was to write about 'pathological altruism', a degree of caring that goes overboard, with negative consequences to the giver. But while researching the case of Carole Alden, things started to go in the opposite direction. Alden made headlines as an 'abused wife' who fought back, killing her abuser (with a gunshots through the back and point-blank through the head, mind you). But after analyzing the facts of the case, the police and court records, and interviewing dozens of people connected with Alden and her victim, Oakley saw another picture emerge. Alden turned out to be an expert manipulator, garnering sympathy from others and fostering an image as an empathic person with a deep love for animals, art, and the weak. But behind the facade, a stunning lack of irresponsibility, pathological degree of lying and 'impression management', and possible history of murder made themselves known. Oh, and then there's the S&M angle (just read the book).

If you've read Oakley's previous book, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend, you'll know what to expect: engaging narrative interspersed with the latest in cognitive research and neuroscience, with quotes from many of the leading authorities on all the topics involved. So you don't just get a true-crime story, but insights into animal hoarding, brain hemisphere functions, personality disorders, parent/child role reversal, altruism, and more. While there were several portions of Evil Genes I thought were seriously flawed, Oakley has more focus in this volume, and it makes for a more cogent presentation. And I think the study of fake 'victims' has a lot of potential to expand to the macrosocial level (just as she extended psychopathy to that level in EG). We have no shortage of nations 'playing the victim', all the while engaging in deceit, impression management, oppression, and violence of unimaginable depths. The dynamic between Carole and Marty can be seen globally. Just think about the War on Terror, with Martha Stout's excellent book, The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior--and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage, in mind.

Unfortunately, as Oakley points out in the final chapter of her book in reference to her own subject matter, this may be just 'too far' for many people to go. Victimhood, like altruism, is sanctified in our minds, and to imagine the depth of evil required for a person or nation to exploit it is a bitter pill to swallow. That's where the very brain mechanisms Oakley discusses come into play, and, like a "stroke patient's left hemisphere deliberately hiding his hand, the better to insist it isn't there", we refuse to acknowledge what is staring us right in the face. In this sense, I think Cold-Blooded Kindness is an important book, because it puts events in our everyday lives, both socially and interpersonally, in perspective. It provides a new way of looking at things that we didn't have before. So, check it out.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa18a3630) out of 5 stars Poor editing and thin science 3 Jun. 2011
By veronicaherself - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading Barbara Oakley's previous book, Evil Genes, this was a letdown. Though she admits she started with an idea of the book's theme and was forced by her investigation into concluding it 180 degrees out from the original premise, there is no clear delineation of the transition. There is lots of interview material, but not enough analysis to make a coherent set of ideas from which to generalize. Get her first book instead, which is better written and full of clear scientific descriptions of the genetic and neurobiochemical underpinnings of the "successfuly sinister" (psychopathic) mind.
26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1a9a450) out of 5 stars AMAZING book!!!! CAN'T PUT IT DOWN! 22 April 2011
By Irit Gat - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I could not put down Barbra's newest book Cold-Blooded Kindness. She is an amazing and articulate writer, weaving a true story of murder and "madness" with information about our neurological/biological make-up from scientific studies that makes for a fascinating read. If you are interested in some of the biological drives of human behavior then this is the book for you. I recommend it for professionals (psychologist, sociologist, biologists, neurologists, etc.)as well as anyone who is fascinated by human behavior and some of the "extremes" of what some people are capable of. I hope she writes another one SOON as she is one of the most amazing authors I have ever read (and I read voraciously!).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa18a38b8) out of 5 stars Author fails to deliver her message clearly 13 May 2013
By Betty M. Southerland - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book started out well and I was impressed with the structure of the material. As I got closer to the end, I began to worry because the ideas presented were not solidified. There seemed to be a disconnect after the halfway point. Was the author rushed, did she lose interest? I don't know. The book did not provide enough material for me to understand what she was trying to get at. Clearly, by the end, she seems judgemental, angry and catty, exchanging remarks to a source who chose not to participate. The science she presented seemed flimsy and relied heavily on hemispheric brain functioning (left/right brain dominance) We now understand brain functioning to be much more plastic and fluid than once thought. ([...])

I don't know what to think of Carole Alden. Is she a liar? Is she odd? Is she a calculated and manipulative killer? I don't know but hopefully assume that the authorities got it right when they convicted her. This book didn't give me much to go on except some vague theory of pathological altruism. The author was unwilling to label Carole Alden as a pathological altruist, however. So why am I reading a book with the theory and the subject entertwined? I got the feeling in the end that the author was more excited to present a trendy new psych label than to deeply investigate and concisely present her ideas.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa18a36f0) out of 5 stars Disjointed 14 Mar. 2013
By Cathy - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have to agree with other reviewers that the story was told in a confusingly disjointed way. What distracted me the most is that the author began to refer to the main culprit as a clearly bad person before presenting actual proof that she was bad, which made the story seem slanted. In addition to bringing in experts, which was valuable, she also relied a lot on anonymous sources and would sometimes quote "experts" who weren't actually experts in the content, such as quoting an English professor about criminal minds. Finally, there were problems with copy editing, such as repetitions of things already said and basic editing errors. I'm a long-time fan of thoughtful true crime but was disappointed by this one.
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