The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon: Review

Title: The Psychopath Inside:  A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain
Author: James Fallon
Publisher: Penguin Group
Publication Date: October 2013
Number of Pages: 256
Series: Stand Alone
Reason for Discovery: ARC

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 From GoodReads:

"For the first fifty-eight years of his life James Fallon was by all appearances a normal guy. A successful neuroscientist and medical school professor, he’d been raised in a loving, supportive family, married his high school sweetheart, and had three kids and lots of friends.
Then he learned a shocking truth that would not only disrupt his personal and professional life, but would lead him to question the very nature of his own identity. 

The Psychopath Inside tells the fascinating story of Fallon’s reaction to the discovery that he has the brain of a psychopath. While researching serial murderers, he uncovered a distinct neurological pattern in their brain scans that helped explain their cold and violent behavior. A few months later he learned that he was descended from a family with a long line of murderers which confirmed that Fallon’s own brain pattern wasn’t a fluke. 

As a scientist convinced that humans are shaped by their genetics, Fallon set out to reconcile the truth about his brain with everything he knew about the mind, behavior, and the influence of nature vs. nurture on our personalities. How could he, a successful scientist and a happy family man with no history of violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior? Was he capable of some of the gruesome atrocities perpetrated by the serial killers he had studied?
Combining his personal experience with scientific analysis, Fallon shares his journey and the discoveries that ultimately led him to understand that, despite everything science can teach us, humans are even more complex than we can imagine."

This is the first review copy that I considered not reviewing in a very long time. I kept going back and forth about what I was going to do. In the end, I decided to review it, because I figured maybe someone might want to read it for all of the reasons that I did not like it. This sounds very ominous, huh? Let me explain. In the "real world," I am a graduate student studying clinical psychology. All I have left to do is to finish writing up my dissertation. Due to my background in psychology, I may be more sensitive to certain things that are going on in this book than the average reader. In other words, this book may not drive you as crazy as it drove me. :)

In this book, James Fallon, a neurologist, has decided that he meets the criteria for a possible diagnosis of psychopathy. The entire book is a showcasing of the evidence for this diagnosis, and he includes both a personal history and biological evidence for this. So I need to stop right here. During the first day of graduate school (and on the first day of Abnormal Psychology in college), my professors stated in no uncertain terms that we should not diagnose ourselves, because you cannot observe your own behavior objectively. Fallon paints a very particular picture of himself in this book to show that he has a particular diagnosis. Granted, a lot of his behavior is problematic (e.g., burning things and manipulating people); however, he never tells a complete story. For example, he rarely tells a story about him just acting like a boring, regular person. All the stories are told in such a way that he is portrayed as a superlative including smartest, bravest, most handsome, most cunning, and most manipulative. We have to take his word for it that what he is telling us is the truth. He does say that he interviewed his friends and family, but (1) what do you expect them to say to him? and (2) he is still filtering what they said to him to us. His writing and story telling do suggest certain pathologies; however, I am not diagnosing someone from a book just like maybe a neurologist shouldn't be diagnosing himself with a psychological disorder.

This book left me feeling dirty and used. Fallon would argue that my gut reaction to him does indicate that he has antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy. He may be right; I have worked with people with the antisocial personality disorder diagnosis who have caused my spidey sense to go off just like it did when I read Fallon's book; however, this manipulativeness that Fallon prides himself on could be related to a number mental health issues or the fact that he wants to sell books.

So you may be thinking that Fallon's personal history is a bit shady, but he cites biological proof like his brain scan! Although we have learned a lot about the human brain and how it works, we don't know everything. Maybe Fallon is a psychopath, because his brain looks like serial killers' brains. Maybe his brain scan also matches people's brains with OCD, or autism spectrum disorders, or narcissistic personality disorder. Maybe his brain matches other super geniuses' brains. Unfortunately, Fallon doesn't have any evidence to suggest the contrary to his psychopathic brain structure. Fallon follows this same path with other biological evidence that he has. He shows the reader some blood work that might be damning and states that it might suggest psychopathy, but then he moves on to the next topic. We don't know if Fallon isn't explaining himself fully, because there is not enough research in this area or he didn't bother to look too far from the psychopathy tree. Fallon makes a few leaps of faith that seem reasonable, but ultimately he doesn't always show the evidence he has to back up his claims. There is a lot of razzle dazzle but not enough objectivity, at least for me.  

I did not care for this book, because (1) there was not enough objectivity for me and (2) the narcissism was at times unbearable. With that said, this book made set off my spidey sense for serious personality disorder to go off. Delving into a person's brain like the one Fallon suggests that he has, it not my cup of tea. I thought this book was going to be more fun that it turned out to be. If you want to get a flavor for someone who may have antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy, this may be the book for you. It certainly gives you flavor. I don't think I could have had such a strong reaction to this book, if the flavor wasn't here. At the same time, if you want an objective book on psychopathy, I would look somewhere else.

I give this book 1 out of 5 for me.


Chanzie said...
October 31, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Wow that was an intense review! Sorry to hear the book didn't work for you, but hey, you win some and you lose some :)

Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

Unknown said...
October 31, 2013 at 11:43 PM

Yeah, I really didn't like it. But I am reading a happy book about a demon slayer, so it is all good. I didn't mean for it to be intense. :( I am going to start focusing on happy reviews from now on. :)

Chanzie said...
November 1, 2013 at 1:30 AM

Lol no need to change anything about your reviews. I actually found it quite interesting and loved your honesty :)

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