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BOOK REVIEW: The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success by Andy McNab and Kevin Dutton

The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success: How to Use Your Inner Psychopath to Get the Most Out of LifeThe Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success: How to Use Your Inner Psychopath to Get the Most Out of Life by Andy McNab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The central premise of this book is that psychopaths have a range of traits that help them succeed. These traits include thick skin, focus, fearlessness, charisma, and coolness under high pressure. The “good” in “good psychopath” is used to describe individuals who have psychopathic characteristics while retaining the ability to play by societal rules—at least to the extent necessary to stay in good stead with the law—as well as to recognize the ramifications of their personalities. If you thought you were going to learn how to get away with a tristate prostitute killing spree, you’re looking into the wrong book. The book does discuss what differentiates good from bad psychopaths, but it’s clearly addressing the former.

Unlike Dr. Dutton’s previous book, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” this book is a self-help book rather than pop science. It’s designed to help anyone channel their inner psychopath. If you’re already a psychopath, it may help you think about how you can apply your natural tendencies to getting what you want in life. If you’re not a psychopath, it’ll advise you on how to go about facilitating the growth of characteristics that serve psychopaths. McNab serves as the psychopath in-residence, offering stories and his own experience, while Dutton is the scholar trying to lend a more objective understanding of the subject.

The book’s organization is straight forward, there is a prologue plus three chapters that outline the subject and lay out the key concepts, and then chapters 4 through 10 each address one of the seven essential characteristics of the good psychopath. These include proclivities like non-procrastination, being confident, being oneself, taking criticism with ease, being persuasive, living in the moment, and reducing the influence of emotion in decision-making / behavior. These seven chapters are the heart of the book, and they explain how to think about and advance these personality characteristics.

One strength of the book is the use of stories and jokes to convey ideas in a reader-friendly manner. However, some of these stories are clichéd. On the other hand, a number of them come from the career of McNab, and he—as a former SAS member–had a more fascinating career than most. Also, many of tales and anecdotes come from the interaction of this scholar / warrior duo. The chapters also have quizzes that will help the reader evaluate their level of psychopathy, and the e-version of the book is linked to on-line versions of the quizzes.

I can imagine a range of responses to this book from love to hate. There’s one way to love this book (despite its faults), but two ways to hate it. The most obvious way to dislike it, but probably not the most common way, is substantive. One may object to a range of virtues such as coolness under pressure and living in the moment being labeled psychopathic. However, if this was a problem for the reader, one probably wouldn’t purchase (or, being psychopathic, steal) the book. Reading the blurb would tell one what to expect in that regard.

The more likely reason for hating this book is stylistic. The authors wrote it as though they were speaking to the reader, and we know there are good reasons for one’s written style of communication being different from the spoken word. The first such reason is that spoken language can confuse when one is lacking non-verbal information streams. In this case, there are two authors who haven’t merged into one voice, but instead retain their distinct voices. This means that one may have moments of not knowing who’s speaking. Such confused moments usually don’t last long because the authors work hard to create widely different personas. Dutton is the PhD with an erudite / nerdy bent, but who works to come off as the cool professor whose class one might enjoy taking. McNab is the psychopath, and he’s a soldier to the core. Still, even the occasional half sentence in confusion is distracting.

The second reason for writing differently than speaking is that one doesn’t know to whom one is speaking. Not everybody digs f-bombs and bawdy jokes. Those who do will probably find the style neither distracting nor offensive. Many readers won’t have a problem with the language, but will nonetheless find the authors’ attempts to come off as cool to be distracting or irritating. Working to appear cool wears well on 13 year olds, but seems a little pathetic in grown men talking to an audience of other adults.

I found this book interesting and I’d recommend it for people interested in personal development. However, I can’t say that I didn’t find the style of the book grating on occasion.

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