James Fallon – The Psychopath Inside

(Current, 2013)

I came upon knowing of the work (and life’s story) of neuroscientist and medical school professor James Fallon through videos of his lectures, talks and interviews online, and just had to get this book. In a nutshell, he is a guy who at one point of his career studied the brain-scans of serial killers, in order to find similar patterns therein. At the same time he was checking out the brain-scans of his family, in order to find genetic traits of Alzheimer’s Disease, and so stumbled upon finding patterns in his own brains-can, which revealed his own psychopathic tendencies.

What followed, is a highly interesting and compelling venture of a scientist in search of the so-called psychopathic genes of his own family-tree, as well as coming to terms with his personal traits such as those usually associated with psychopathy; Calculating, cold, manipulating, vengeful, narcissistic etc. tendencies. As the book (his scientific findings and personal reflections) progresses chronologically, Fallon discovers even more new attributes of himself, such as those related to bipolar disorder, and the validity of his “three-legged stool theory of psychopathy” (of three factors which determine the human outcomes of personality, as in 1) Low functioning of certain parts of the brain, 2) The role of genes, and 3) The influence of surroundings) is tested.

What makes the book so compelling is the right amount of professional scientific explanations and good humour. Fallon has a great way of telling of the events of his own personal life (in an honest and naked way) with humour and even excitement, keeping the story-telling totally balanced with the good amount of neurological jargon and pictures of human brains. Perhaps his gifts of story-telling are indeed coming from his “pro social” psychopathy.

The book ends nicely in chapters where Fallon openly admits his negative sides and reflects upon the reasons his close friends and family think of him as a “sociopath”, and where he ponders upon the necessity (or rather usefulness) of psychopaths in evolution and modern society, as in the cases of leaders or people making hard decisions.

In the end, the various things that make up a human personality are so vast, there are numerous opportunities for a diagnose to go amiss. However, it is extremely entertaining (and challenging) to reflect upon the workings of one’s own brain, in the light of books such as this. A very recommended read to anyone interested in the workings of a so-called psychopathic mind, and if suspecting similar traits in one’s self (rather than starting to see psychopaths all around you, of course), a must-read to anyone brave enough to look in the mirror without bias.

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