Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Title: The Sociopath Next Door
Author: Martha Stout
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: I found it browsing a sale at Audible
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year 139

I'll admit now that Martha Stout may be right. She asserts early in The Sociopath Next Door that 4% of the population is sociopathic, and she repeats that fact at least once (and probably more like three times) each chapter. But each time the narrator said "one in 25 people is a sociopath" I had the same reaction-- disbelief. Is it really possible that four people in one hundred doesn't have a fully-formed conscience that Stout describes as the hallmark of sociopathy? The DSM-IV suggests that sociopathy is one of several antisocial personality disorders, and that the prevalence of all antisocial personality disorders is approximately 3% of men and 1% of women. Maybe I recoil at Stout's figures because she does such a good job of presenting people who are sociopaths (several of her chapters are stories about sociopaths) and it's creepy to think that if Stout's figures hold, there's a sociopath in each of my kids' classes, three in our Primary, and half a dozen in my ward. It's also a little freaky when she says that most people who aren't sociopaths can't recognize sociopathy in others. I'm also reluctant to buy her numbers because she doesn't seem to present any possibilities for redemption for these people-- the book wants to show that they are devoid of conscience, that they are manipulative, and that you should avoid them. She never talks about how someone can develop a conscience who was not born with one or whose conscience was lost due to traumatic events in early childhood.

Reading The Sociopath Next Door made me think a lot about Dexter. Dexter asserts early on in the show that he is a sociopath, possibly due to genetics, but likely due to early childhood trauma. He only feels whole when he kills. In the first season, he doesn't know how to love, he fakes emotion, he doesn't like sex, and he goes through the motions of all of these emotional aspects of life because he needs to fit in. Most of the villains he encounters in each season are also sociopaths-- his brother, Lila (possibly the best example), Jimmy Smits (Stout says that sociopaths do well in politics, and the Smits character resembles one of Stout's examples quite a bit) and the John Lithgow character. Lumen (in season five) has to turn away from him because she eventually recognizes that she is not a sociopath, but the guy who locked her up definitely was. So if you look at Dexter as a show where a recovering sociopath (that's how I would characterize Dexter, even though Stout doesn't seem to think recovery is possible) encounters other sociopaths. For that insight alone, reading the book was worthwhile.

1 comment:

Moriah said...

If we're going on sheer odds, I believe it.

I've known more than a few of these people in my life, including my grandmother. I finally got a clue when I realized I'd been had a few times, and then I could spot it.

I used this book as a way to try to describe the villain in Magdalene because I simply couldn't make it *believable* from my point of view. It's unbelievable and crazy-making.

If I, as someone who is a regular sort of person, is running into these people on an every-three-year basis (or so) (not counting my grandmother), I can't imagine what numbers a therapist who makes a study of them is coming across.

Not only that, but the book was given to me by a friend whose ex was a sociopath. She needed the book to understand what was happening to her.

It's an excellent book and did a really good job of articulating what it really looks like from the outside.