Summary and book reviews of The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

The Sociopath Next Door

The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

by Martha Stout

The Sociopath Next Door
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2005, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2006, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A fascinating, important book about what makes good people good and bad people bad, and how good people can protect themselves from those others. Highly recommended.

Who is the devil you know?

Is it your lying, cheating ex-husband?
Your sadistic high school gym teacher?
Your boss who loves to humiliate people in meetings?
The colleague who stole your idea and passed it off as her own?

In the pages of The Sociopath Next Door, you will realize that your ex was not just misunderstood. He's a sociopath. And your boss, teacher, and colleague? They may be sociopaths too.

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.

How do we recognize the remorseless? One of their chief characteristics is a kind of glow or charisma that makes sociopaths more charming or interesting than the other people around them. They're more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier than everyone else, making them tricky to identify and leaving us easily seduced. Fundamentally, sociopaths are different because they cannot love. Sociopaths learn early on to show sham emotion, but underneath they are indifferent to others' suffering. They live to dominate and thrill to win.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

It is the ruthless versus the rest of us, and The Sociopath Next Door will show you how to recognize and defeat the devil you know.

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I hope that this book gets the very wide audience it deserves because what it has to say is of relevance to virtually all of us as individuals, and takes on even great significance when one adds in the fact that (according to well-documented and much repeated research, first performed by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s) about two-thirds of the general population will follow the orders of somebody in authority, even if it is to inflict significant harm on others. You only have to look at the harm inflicted by the followers of such renowned sociopaths as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot to see where that can lead.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (118 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Dramatic as these tales are, they are composites, and while Stout is a good writer and her exploration of sociopaths can be arresting, this book occasionally appeals to readers' paranoia, as the book's title and its guidelines for dealing with sociopaths indicate.

Library Journal - Lynne F Maxwell

Stout (clinical psychiatry, Harvard Medical Sch.; The Myth of Sanity Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness) offers a novel perspective on sociopaths, i.e., people who have no conscience. Not only does she provide case studies and references to standard literature like Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity, but she also fashions the book in self-help mode.... Highly recommended for all public libraries and for university libraries with large psychology collections.

Kirkus Reviews

...a remarkable philosophical examination of the phenomenon of sociopathy and its everyday manifestations. Readers eager for a tabloid-ready survey of serial killers, however, will be disappointed. Instead, Stout (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) busies herself with exploring the workaday lives and motivations of those garden-variety sociopaths who are content with inflicting petty tyrannies and small miseries.....Deeply thought-provoking and unexpectedly lyrical.

Author Blurb Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
A fascinating, important book about what makes good people good and bad people bad, and how good people can protect themselves from those others.

Reader Reviews

Dorothy Knable

Great analysis!
Amazing analysis of a personality we encounter too often. It should help people dealing with a mysteriously unmanageable relationship or wondering why she cannot get ahead when a certain “off” though charming, person has anything to do with her. I ...   Read More

J. Dunlap

She Lives Next Door to Me
I live next door to a Sociopath. I have know she was one for years so I stayed away from her. I bought this book to be sure I wasn't judging my neighbor wrongly. This book is wonderful! It proved that the Sociopath next door to me is a pure ...   Read More

Jeannie

A must read for all
I, too, was in a marriage for over 25 years with a "sociopath next door." I have a psychology background. Yet I would never think my husband was a sociopath because he wasn't mass killing people like Ted Bundy. He had a very high position...   Read More

Notloh

Read this book!!!!
This book seems to be written out of a sincere wish to warn the world about the human predators among us. While it is true that some things are repeated that seems to me to be done in order to hammer the point home rather than to fill up space/pages...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

How do you spot a sociopath?
(from The Sociopath Next Door)

A sociopath has no conscience, no ability to feel shame, guilt or remorse. Since 1 in 25 ordinary Americans is a sociopath, you almost certainly know one or more than one already. How can you recognize him or her?

  • Sociopaths learn early on to show sham emotion, but underneath they live only to dominate others and win.
  • They have a kind of glow or charisma that makes them more charming or interesting than the other people around ...

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