Excerpt from The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sociopath Next Door

The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

By Martha Stout

The Sociopath Next Door
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2005,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2006,
    256 pages.

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ONE

the seventh sense

Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell.
- ;G. K. Chesterton


This morning, Joe, a thirty-year-old attorney, is running five minutes late for an extremely important meeting that, with or without him, will start promptly at eight o'clock. He needs to keep up a good impression with the more senior members of his firm, which means just about everybody, and he would like to have the first word with these wealthy clients, whose concerns include Joe's budding specialty of estate planning. He has been preparing his agenda for days because he feels there is a lot at stake, and he very much wants to be in the conference room at the start of the meeting.

Unfortunately, the furnace in Joe's town house suddenly stopped making heat in the middle of the night. Freezing and pacing, afraid the pipes would burst, he had to wait for the emergency repairman from the fuel company before he could leave for work this morning. When the man showed up, Joe let him in and then, desperate to get to the meeting, abandoned him in the town house to fix the furnace, hoping the fellow would prove reasonably honest. At last, Joe was able to race to his Audi and set off for the office, but with only twenty-five minutes left to make a thirty-minute drive. He resolved to bend the rules a little and make up the time.

Now Joe is speeding along a familiar route to work, clenching his teeth and swearing under his breath at the slow drivers, at all the drivers really. He reinterprets a couple of red lights, passes a line of traffic by using the breakdown lane, and clings frantically to the hope that he can somehow make it to the office by 8:00. When he hits three green lights in a row, he thinks that he may just succeed. With his right hand, he reaches over to touch the overnight bag in the passenger's seat, to reassure himself that he remembered to bring it. In addition to everything else, he has to catch a 10:15 plane to New York this morning, a trip for the firm, and there will certainly not be time after the meeting to go back home for his things. His hand contacts the cushiony leather of the bag—it is there and packed.

And at this very moment, Joe remembers. He forgot to feed Reebok. Reebok is Joe's three-year-old blond Labrador retriever, so named because, before he got too busy at the firm, Joe used to take early-morning runs with his enthusiastic new pet. When work took over and the morning routine changed, Joe fenced in the small backyard and installed a doggy door in the basement, allowing the dog solo access to the outside. At this point, runs together in the park are weekends only. But exercise or not, Reebok consumes several pounds of Science Diet every week, along with a huge assortment of leftover human food and at least one full box of jumbo bone treats. The young dog's appetite is stupendous, and he seems to live quite happily for two pleasures alone—his time with Joe, and his food.

Joe got Reebok as a puppy, because when Joe was a boy, his father would not let him have a pet, and he had vowed to himself that when he was grown up and successful, he would have a dog, a big one. At first, Reebok had been not very different from the Audi, another acquisition, a marker of Joe's independence and material prosperity. But soon Joe had fallen in love with the animal himself. How could he not? Reebok adored Joe unconditionally, and from puppyhood had followed him around the house as if Joe were the center of all that was good in the universe. As his puppy grew to doghood, Joe realized that this creature had as distinct and individual a personality as any human being, and that his liquid brown eyes contained at least as much soul. Now, whenever Joe looks into those eyes, Reebok wrinkles his soft beige brow into several folded-carpet furrows and stares back. In this way, the sweet, ungainly dog appears preternaturally thoughtful, as if he can read Joe's mind and is concerned.

Excerpted from The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Martha Stout, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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