on 26 April 2015
I found this a helpful and insightful book, though the structural devices of American pop psychologists and their endless illustrations of points with chatty scenarios is a trifle irritating. This being said, there are some really good suggestions here for identifying and dealing with those amongst us without conscience. Stout is right to insist such people don't actually experience anything like the joys of living or its occasional trials. She is also right to flag up the creeping propensity for social and technological structures that move us away from caring about others, or at least thinking about them. As in my own experience, the best strategy she has for surviving one is to get away from them, and certainly not to give in to the temptation of playing them at their own hideous games.
on 21 January 2007
Martha Stout provides a clear explanation and description of 'the sociopath' that ranges from simple examples of the devastating impact people without conscience are able to have, to an incisive and broad ranging overview of our understanding of morality. Dealing with sociopaths is tough, not least because they are arch-manipulators who know how to shape our emotional responses unseen and un-noticed by us because we make the assumption that they are driven by the same impulses as we are. This book makes it clear that this error is the most destructive one we can make - sociopaths are not 'like us', they can not 'be reasoned with' or 'reformed'. This knowledge is invaluable for anyone whose life comes in contact with a sociopath, but also fascinating for all who seek to understand human nature and why people do what they do!
For many years we've been friends with this guy whom I'll call Steve. Steve is an upstanding member of the community, has a picture-perfect All-American family, a respectable job, and a wide circle of friends. He comes across as charming and very friendly, and seems to be very eager to help and please those around him. However, after getting to know him just a little bit better all these aspects of Steve's life appear to be an act. Steve is in fact extremely competitive even over the dumbest things, scheming, and manipulative. The more I got to know him, the less I wanted to know about him. His constant scheming was eventually too much to handle, and we were forced to cut all personal ties with him.
All along I was wondering what is it that made Steve act in the way that he did. A few years ago I came across an article on Wikipedia on psychopathy, and that's when things finally started making sense. It turns out that psychopaths/sociopaths are actually very common in the society at large. Most of them are not Hannibal Lectors of Hollywood's imagination. They are not serial killers, nor are the majority of them necessarily physically violent. All of them, however, have one main thing in common: they wreak havoc on almost all lives that they touch. Most disturbingly, there are surprisingly many of them around: one to four percent in the US, depending on how rigorous your classification criteria are.
"The Sociopath Next Door" is in many ways the best book on sociopaths/psychopaths that I've read. What distinguishes it from many other similar books is its very practical and applied approach. Furthermore, Martha Stout is an excellent writer in her own right and this is an eminently readable, even literary, book. Book's a pleasure to read, and were the subject matter not this serious and frightening, this would make a great pleasure read.
There are three main things that I loved about the book.
1. Stout reduces psychopathy/sociopathy to just one most salient feature: lack of conscience. She argues, quite persuasively, that all other features of sociopaths are secondary. This insight alone can explain why sociopaths come in so many different guises.
2. Stout provides a very easy and counterintuitive way of identifying sociopaths. One thing that really gives them away is the "pity play": all of them to various extents tap into their victims' compassion in order to manipulate them.
3. Stout provides an excellent and very effective thirteen-point list of ways in which we can deal with sociopaths. Unfortunately there is no way of "curing" these people, so the best we can hope is to try to reduce their effects on others. I have been practicing pretty much all of the recommendations on my own to begin with, and I can assure you that they are very, very effective.
So if this is such a wonderful and useful book, why did I give it only four stars? Because I fear that Stout had overreached. If this had been only a book about individual sociopaths, who they are, and how to deal with them this would have been a wonderful and self-contained book. However, it seems that one of the main motivations behind writing this book had been to denounce wars, and the wars waged by the United States in particular. I have no doubt that many politicians and World leaders are in fact sociopaths, including some US presidents. Nonetheless, reducing all of warfare and a pretty big chunk of international relations to psychological defects of a few individuals, without providing a single concrete shred of evidence for such a claim, is at best intellectually questionable. I am afraid that this other underlying theme has a potential to seriously undermine Stout's main points and insights about sociopaths. Fortunately, this part of the book can be to a large extent ignored.
on 6 September 2006
This book should be part of the school curriculum. It is compelling reading for anyone who is interested in 'what makes people tick'. It serves as a warning to us all, and I wish I'd been able to read it years ago.
They say psychiatrist's waiting rooms are full of the victims of sociopaths. If more people read this book, they will at least be armed with the knowledge to help identify such people.
A serious subject, turned into enjoyable reading.
on 22 June 2007
We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals like Hannibal Lechter or Ted Bundy.
Martha Stout in this book reveals how a shocking 4 percent of the population have the same chief symptom, namely a complete lack of conscience. The difference is that the majority with this mental disposition operate within the laws and only rarely get caught.
The book is easy to read without having a psych degree and Martha Stout uses many examples to show how these people charm and deceive their way through life in total disregard for the impact on other people.
Martha Stout further teaches how to identify a sociopath and how to protect oneself from the impact of one.
I found the book clear and light and also a celebration of the 96% who do have a conscience.
The book is well worth reading along with "In sheeps clothing" by George Simon, "Political Ponerology" by Andrzej Lobaczewski, "The mask of sanity" by Hervey Checkley and "Without conscience" by Robert Hare, that all deal with different aspects of the phenomenon.
on 16 November 2014
This wonderful book is like a light shining on a dark night. For almost a year, my family have suffered horrendously because of the appalling behaviour of the woman my dear, loving, big-hearted brother married four years ago. To cut a very long and horrible story short, she wanted my brother all to herself, and set out to try to alienate him from his daughters and the rest of his family. We are a very close family, and we don't do alienation, and my brother refused to go along with her (she had previously alienated her former husband's daughters). This horrible woman tried everything: she fabricated so-called 'damage' that she claimed my nieces and my brother had done to the house co-owned by my brother and her; she reported my niece to the police; she summoned the police to check for this 'damage', and, naturally not finding it, the police quietly said to my brother that she was mentally ill and needed help.
She is not mentally ill: she is a sociopath. She is malice in human form, and the most horrible person I have ever met. Thank you, compassionate, loving Martha Stout - you feel like a loving friend holding my hand through some of the worst moments of my life. I can't tell you how much it helped, to have you gently point out that it is we, the conscious-possessing majority, who ultimately win.
For anyone who finds themselves in my position, you have my sympathy and I do hope you come through. Read the book, learn, begin to understand. Martha, thank you.
In 'The Sociopath Next Door', Stout concentrates on those sociopaths who are not violent but who remain hidden amongst us. She estimates that 1 in 25 of the US population are sociopaths meaning that they have no concience.It's a claim that you might easily dismiss before reading the book, but haven't you met someone who seems to undermine your efforts at work for no apparent reason, who makes you feel sorry for them so that they can manipulate you, or someone who only thinks about themselves without an aparent care for anyone else?
Stout explains quite complex theories in language that is easy to understand. She looks at historical and Freudian theories about the nature of conscience. One of the most interesting parts for me was her consideration of the impact of Millgram's Obedience experiments and what this means for the general populations' risk of being manipulated by these people.
She also includes a handy 13 point plan that will prevent you being targeted.
An excellent study which is really easy to read. Recommended.
on 4 July 2014
This is a great read for someone who is getting divorced from a husband who I believe is a sociopath. When reading about characteristics if a sociopath in the book you can literally tick them off one by one as I can see and have experienced them in my soon to be ex-husband.
I've not been able to confide in many, even therapists seem a bit fazed when I've spoken to them about my experience, but this book has supported my understanding of sociopathy and how to survive an encounter with a sociopath.
It's true that they lie as if it's second nature without batting an eyelid, cheat, steal, put on the waterworks to manipulate you and your loved ones that even your own mother and grandmother believe their lies over you ( I have lived this).
This book gives hope and reassures you that you're not bonkers and how to move on and protect yourself from any future encounters.
on 12 February 2015
This book has been so helpful. I have a family member who seems to generate far more chaos and upset than any other person I know. Sometimes these are big explosions and sometimes they are more subtle tricks or lies which gradually come to the surface, making me feel a pin prick of shock in my heart when I realise the detached coldness behind the action. My family member also has a wealth of sympathy searching 'poor me' stories at the ready, which is another trait outlined in this book. It may feel rather melodramatic and silly to consider the possibility that someone you know is a sociopath, but as Martha Stout points out, the majority of them are not raging serial killers, they live amongst the general population, spending their time scheming, competing, dominating and spoiling - just for kicks. If you know someone around whom you must tread on eggshells, or who makes you feel physically and emotionally ill at ease and yet you can't exactly say why, then I implore you, dear, lovely nice person, to read this book.
on 8 December 2013
If you really want to learn/discover something about psychopaths/sociopaths I recommend 'Without Conscience' by R. Hare or 'Snakes in Suits' by Hare and Babiak. This book could be summed up as: Say a lot about little. Very disappointing for me. I expected something more factual and straight to the point as when I read Hare's and Babiak's books, not just paragraphs full of academic words combined into almost-nothing-to-convey-sentences. So far the worst book I have read regarding this topic.