Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, ph.d.

Who is the devil you know?  Dun dun dun
     If 1 in every 25 Americans is a sociopath, as this book suggests, then there must be five sociopaths in my grade alone.  My friends and I have our suspicions, but it's probably best not to tell y'all until we've concluded our investigations.   
     In all seriousness, this book was fascinating.  I learned why sociopaths thrive in Western countries, and that there are different kinds of sociopaths - some are violent, some are slick and charming, some are confrontational, some are driven by jealousy.  The writer, Martha Stout, is a clinical psychologist, and she intersperses true stories of sociopaths, probably first narrated to her by her clients, with chapters of data and reasoning, which was a great way to build the book because if a text doesn't tell me a story, I get bored (unless it's phenomenally written, of course).
     I have only two problems with the book.  One is the writing style, which is fine but not beautiful.  Understandably, the author's point in writing the book was to spread her knowledge and prevent more people from being hurt by sociopaths, and not to wow us with her command of the English language.  The other thing that bugged me was that it seemed dramaticized. As I read the book, I could picture the sociopaths of the world prowling around the good law-abiding blameless people of the world - the reader among them, of course.  The message is that you, the reader, are the good guy (how flattering!), and you're up against a bad guy who is barely human (how frightening!).  
     I don't think that it is that simple; everyone is flawed, and I felt as though the book were trying to draw a black-and-white, sociopaths vs. good people picture of society.  That is a dangerous thing to do.  I would have been delighted if there had been a chapter on the possibility of developing medication for sociopathy.  Is that even possible?  I hope so.  I think most of the bad things that happen spring from mental illness, combined with human beings' tendency to behave like lemmings. I don't believe in EVIL.
     THAT SAID, I don't want to discourage anyone from reading the book because it was really interesting.  I enjoyed reading it (the dramatization probably helped with that :P).  Most people believe that 'evil' is a fundamental part of human nature, but Stout's idea - that there are just a few bad apples spoiling the fundamentally good barrel of humanity - is an interesting and reassuring possibility.  Who can say what evil is, and where it comes from, and who has it?

     - Carly


  1. I was wondering about this book and from the reviews of other people it strike me as a dumb read. Sociopaths aren't necessarily evil, most of the time they're not. Just because your empathy is lower, doesn't mean you will go and hurt people intentionally. It just means you're not as emotionally connected as others. The whole word "sociopath" has become such a negative term, I think its silly and unnecessary.

  2. Interesting. I'll put this on my reading list. I've always said that it is more difficult to be moral than to be immoral. In my view, doing the right thing takes more courage than operating in the shadows and reveling in all things nefarious. I believe it is easier to take than to give without the expectation of receiving anything in return. Morality requires discipline. It's a daily struggle. So, I have always thought that we are wicked by nature and that one of our many goals in life is to aspire to be better than we are.

    - Anna


Thank you for talking to me!! I wish you lots of good books and brownies!