Book Review -The Psychopath Whisperer

I’m a sucker for watching movie previews. Often (and sadly, yes, I know … go ahead and weep for me) I prefer watching a dozen trailers as opposed to an actual movie. Maybe that’s because I have small children and can never get through an actual movie in one sitting, or perhaps its because my brain is irreparably damaged in some unknown cerebral cortex, but to me the movie trailer is an underappreciated artform in and of itself. If you’ve ever seen the trailers for movies like Prometheus, Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, or even The Revenant, you’ll know what I’m talking about. (And if you haven’t seen them, go check them out on Youtube and come back. Trust me, the trailers are better than the movies).

So why am I talking about trailers in a book review?

Psy WhispBecause the title to this novel was so deceptively clever that it instantly had me hooked. And, like many movies, the title (or trailer) was much better than the actual product it was promoting. “The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without a Conscience”, if given an Honest Trailer, would instead be titled – “The Autobiography of Dr. Kent Kiehl: or How I Made Millions Studying Psychopaths.”

Now there were some interesting parts to this non-fiction narrative. Mostly in the chapter headings, where facts about psychopaths were told. Like, for instance, a psychopath is born every 32 seconds, or a psychopath is more likely to reoffend after prison twelve times more than a normal inmate. I also enjoyed some of the stories that were told about the psychopaths interviewed when Kiehl began his research at a maximum security prison in Canada.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel is academic drivel, written completely without emotion to the extent that halfway through I was wondering if Kiehl wasn’t a psychopath himself. For someone who worked so closely with thousands of these individuals I was deeply troubled by his complete lack of sympathy towards them. He argues that the brain of a psychopath is markedly different and is the cause for their lack of social and moral understanding, but yet persists in that the death penalty was probably the right choice for someone who committed atrocious crimes while not being able to comprehend that they were even wrong.

This book could have really benefitted from the help of a ghostwriter to add some depth of emotion to the subject that Kiehl clearly lacks. Instead it maintained an academic aloofness of an elitist, (at least in his own mind), that made it difficult to finish. Some interesting ideas, and the research Kiehl has conducted is no doubt worthy of an autobiography, but let’s call a spade a spade and a boring autobiography a non-fiction book I’d rather not read.

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