Review: Beautiful Redemption, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

>>Published: October 2012

>>Finally got around to it: November 2012

“I don’t think you understand. Isn’t there some kind of door? A place where I can walk inside without having to play any games?” I didn’t have time for this. I needed to find The Caster Chronicles and get out. Get home.

Come on.

He slapped his hand against my arm, and I struggled to stay standing. The man was incredibly strong—Link and John strong. “It would be too easy if you could walk into the Great Keep. What would be the point of that?”

I tried to hide my frustration. “I don’t know? How about to get inside?”

He frowned. “Where have you come from?”

“The Otherworld.”

“Dead man, listen well. The Great Keep is not like the Otherworld. The Great Keep has many names. To the Norse it is Valhalla, Hall of the Lords. To the Greeks it is Olympus. There are as many names as there are men who would speak them.”

“Okay. I’m down with all that. I just want to find my way inside this one library. If I could just find someone to talk to—”

“There is but one way into the Great Keep,” he said. “The Warrior’s Way.”

***

Ethan and Lena: a mortal boy and a caster girl. Together they’re a southern, supernatural version of Romeo and Juliet. Granted that’s an obvious comparison, but a fitting one: fate-tied lovers kept apart both by family and tragic circumstances, but nonetheless drawn to one another. In Beautiful Redemption, the fourth and final book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures quartet, Ethan and Lena aren’t faced merely with overcoming small town prejudice, evil lineages, or frightening prophecies and apocalyptic happenings, but crossing back from death itself in order to be reunited.

Following the end-of-the-world events of Beautiful Chaos, the third book in the series, in which the small town of Gatlin was overrun by a plague of lubbers, lakes drying up, and earthquakes and tornadoes tearing apart homes and families that have been rooted in town since time began, Beautiful Redemption begins in the immediate aftermath of Ethan’s sacrifice. Having given up his life to save his town and everyone he loves, Ethan, the wayward, finds himself on the other side of the coin, looking out from the land of the dead on the people he cared for most as they continue to live and, in many cases, refuse to accept his passing. As he works to find a way home to them—in the process solving the mystery of his unfortunate fate, and whether or not it had been tampered with—they in turn find ways to aid him from the other side, the mortal realm, in his quest to live again.

The Beautiful Creatures series has always been a bit of a strange beast: it tells an age-old tale of universe-splitting good versus evil, but contained entirely within a couple of small southern American towns and a handful of trips to far off places via a system of underground tunnels that link and shrink the world in magical ways. It very much encapsulates the idea of the world in a bubble, but to terrific effect: Gatlin feels alive in a way that Hogwarts did, though to a lesser extent—three-dimensional and fully realized, right down to the look and feel of the local haunts and the everybody-in-everybody’s-business vibe of the place. While the town feels at times a bit small and convenient in an everybody’s-in-on-the-big-secret sort of way, considering the possible ramifications of the story being told, the snow globe-style storytelling allows for careful, thoughtful crafting of both character and setting. In this sense, the Beautiful Creatures quartet stands on a different pedestal than other successful young adult series, such as The Hunger Games or the Uglies series, neither of which was able to craft a world with a similar rich lived-in feel, or characters so worth caring about.

Beautiful Redemption breaks from the mould established by the previous three entries in the series. Instead of being told entirely from Ethan’s perspective, the book alternates between Lena and Ethan, shifting focus every 100-200 pages from the mortal world to the afterlife—or their neither here nor there version of it. Despite taking place, literally, in two worlds, the story being told in Beautiful Redemption feels smaller and more compact than in the previous three. The largest good versus evil battle actually takes place in the second book, Beautiful Darkness, while the third, Beautiful Chaos, offers the series’ emotional climax. Though there is excitement to be had, and there are still a number of mysteries to solve, Beautiful Redemption feels, at times, more like a coda than a climax. That doesn’t negate its many qualities—chief among them the final steps taken in Ethan and Lena’s emotional journey, and the across the board acceptance they gain from those near and dear to them. However, apart from a mid-novel fight in which Link gets his Neville Longbottom hero moment, there is more resolution and emotional bow-wrapping than there are thrills and chills to this conclusion.

Redemption is the key word to this book, and everyone gets their chance at the piñata. Ethan and Lena have travelled the gamut of adult emotions, and their reward, should they succeed, is to finally have the opportunity to be teenagers in love, without a care in the world. Similarly, Ridley, Lena’s cousin and a Siren who’s caused more emotional chaos in three books than most villains could dream, is given her final fork in the road and offered a choice; while John Breed, a pain in the ass in the second book and a caged monkey in the third, is also finally given the chance to prove his worth.

Though I was not as taken with Beautiful Redemption as I was with the first and third entries (Creatures and Chaos), it is still a rich, satisfying conclusion to a uniquely voiced young adult series. The southern charms of the quartet and the strikingly adult manner in which Ethan and Lena’s relationship is handled, especially in the third and fourth books, go a long way in separating these four books from so much of what is out there today.

Advertisements

Review: Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks

>>Published: November 2012

The perceptual transformations and hallucinations induced by mescaline, LSD, and other hallucinogens are predominantly, but not exclusively, visual. There may be enhancements or distortions or hallucinations of taste and smell, touch and hearing, or there may be fusions of the senses—a sort of temporary synesthesia—“the smell of a low B flat, the sound of green,” as Breslaw put it. Such coalescences or associations (and their presumed neural basis) are creations of the moment. In this way they are quite different from true synesthesia, a congenital (and often familial) condition where there are fixed sensory equivalences that last a lifetime. With hallucinogens, time may appear to be distended or compressed. One may cease to perceive motion as continuous and see instead a series of static “snapshots,” as with a film run too slowly. Such stroboscopic or cinematic vision is a not uncommon effect of mescaline. Sudden accelerations, slowings, or freezings of movement are also common with more elementary hallucinatory patterns.

***

Oliver Sacks, frequent NPR collaborator and author of such books as Migraine, Musicophilia, and Awakenings, returns with another bout of science-for-the-masses with his latest book, Hallucinations.

Hallucinations in and of themselves are not always easy to describe—or for that matter, simple to understand. There are an infinite number of ways hallucinations might present themselves to their unsuspecting hosts: as indefinable blotches of colour, or random sounds and voices without environmental sources, all the way to the more complex and sometimes worrisome examples of seeing and having conversations and interactions with people that don’t actually exist, to believing in entirely different realities from one’s own.

Equally numerous are the potential causes for hallucinations. Far from being a curse exclusive to the mad and the insane, hallucinations can be brought on by anything from a harsh migraine or sleeplessness, to sensory deprivation, drug use, Parkinson’s, and other illnesses—even a high fever can be enough to trigger hallucinations, given a person’s unique physiology and whether or not they are neurologically susceptible to such events.

Sacks’ Hallucinations is light on science and heavy on anecdotal evidence. He takes a combined academic and political approach to the material: first, breaking it down into the different potential causes and/or types of hallucinations; and second, by presenting individuals—friends, colleagues, and strangers and case studies met along the way, as if on a campaign trail—who are representative of these specific types of hallucinations. Hallucinations is, in essence, more of an anthology of experiences than it is a scientific exploration.

The book is highly approachable, and the first-hand accounts of many different sorts of hallucinatory events are often fascinating (and sometimes scary… the thought of waking up to the image of a child-sized spider on my chest and being unable to move would more than likely turn me into a lifelong insomniac). As a migraine sufferer who has also experienced music-based synesthesia for most of my life, I found myself understanding, to some degree, the confusion so many in the book confess to—of being “tricked” into believing the tangible existence of a hallucination, even for a moment, and the mix of disappointment and elation that can sometimes follow when reality slips back into place.

Most enlightening, however, were the details of Sacks’ years experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs and the very economical manner in which he details the effects. Though his experiments and brief bouts of addition didn’t seem to cause too many drastic repercussions on his own life, it makes for an interesting pairing with Marc Lewis’ Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, which was released earlier this year.

Hallucinations is a personal, yet surface-level exploration of a topic that demands far more in depth analysis than what is given in this book. As an entry point into the study of hallucinatory experiences and the causes and effects of them on the human body and mind, it opens a great many doors, but never steps all the way through to the other side. Sacks offers many different kernels of insight and explanation into some of our more misguided attempts to understand and accept hallucinations for what they are (and not always the harbingers of insanity we sometimes treat them as). However, given my curiosity for the topic at hand, I wish there had been a bit more science and a little less of a focus on personal anecdotes—no matter how interesting many of them happen to be. If for nothing else, Hallucinations has left me with a greater interest in the subject, one I hope to have the opportunity to explore further.

Review: Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus?, by A.G. Pasquella

>>Published: May 2010

>>Finally got around to it: November 2012

“Rise & Shine, Cy!”

Groaning Pain-Filled Cyrus raises his head from the bathroom floor. His fur is matted with spilled Champagne, Cocaine, Cigar Ash. Cyrus squints through the open door. Standing perfectly pressed next to a lamp covered by lacy red panties is Bobby Jack, softly smoking.

“Get on up, Cy. Got us a busy day today. But first—breakfast.”

Cyrus groans. “Can’t make it, Bobby Jack. I’m done in.”

“Here, take these.” Bobby Jack scatters a handful of pills in front of The Preaching Chimp. Cyrus greedily gobbles them up.

“Now sniff this.”

Vial of White Powder held beneath the chimp’s flat nose. Cyrus sucks it back.

“Now put on your suit & let’s go get some eggs.”

***

A.G. Pasquella’s Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus? dares to ask only the most pertinent question on most individual’s minds: how do we know Christ hasn’t already returned to the world… and possibly in the form of a resurrected spider monkey named Floyd?

I know, right? This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

Pasquella’s first novella is a hyperactive combination of Looney Tunes-style humour, science gone awry, and light social commentary wrapped up in a variety-show-cum-film-noir package. Think shades of Natural Born Killers’ absurdity and social disaffection, only without the mass murder. Or more simply put, Rocky & Bullwinkle meet the snake oil salesman and the hobo evangelist.

Bob and Janet, scientists with the best of intentions, are working to teach Cyrus the chimpanzee how to speak. Cyrus, however, escapes captivity and embarks on a cross-country journey involving: a deranged Colonel and his sideshow-ready products—like shrunken heads and pickled Siamese twins; Bobby Jack and Jackie Bob, a pair of shysters (television producers, naturally) who want to promote the gospel of Cyrus; and of course, the titular risen-from-death spider monkey, Floyd.

Pasquella’s novella is thankfully devoid of pretension. This is an off-the-wall takedown of commercialism and social gullibility—with the singing, dancing, evangelizing chimp on stage and the slightly more evolved chimps in the crowd, tossing money at an absurdity just so they can get a little more “oomph” in their daily lives—written as if it were a strange, pseudo-sci-fi stream-of-consciousness. There is a definite narrative arc to Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus?, but the plot embraces a style reminiscent of variety shows like Laugh In; its chapters are broken into smaller scenes and ideas, each of them tangents in their own right that feed into the larger whole. In a way, it reads a bit like a novella travelling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of do-you-remember-whens—separate thoughts all spiralling out from a point of origin, thematically winding their way back around again.

Pasquella employs a deliberate and sometimes strange method of capitalizing most nouns and replacing the word “and” with ampersands. It’s a call back to the carnival barkers of old—when excitability trumped truth, honesty, and value when it came to pushing a product to a salivating crowd, eager to part ways with their money. Additionally, quick screenwriting place and time notations are used to jump quickly from one scene and/or idea to the next, to accentuate the gravitas of a given situation. Occasionally these stylistic details work and propel the story further, but every now and then—mostly with respect to the overuse of capitalization—I found them to be more distracting than likely intended. Often what is being said and the situations presented do more than enough to sell the severity and ridiculousness of the moment without having to additionally rely on these stylistic conceits, but neither did they detract from my ability to enjoy the book.

Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus? is light on plot and character, but intentionally so. This little acid trip of a novella is amped-up satire, and Pasquella does a fine job poking fun at the unenviable parts of our selves that are so quick to believe and even quicker to judge. That, and it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

Review: No Alternative, by William Dickerson

>>Published: April 2012

>>Finally got around to it: November 2012

In an article Stewart wrote for his college music zine, The Note, he didn’t quite suggest that Cobain was a surrealist, but he did imply that his mere existence, and its place in history, may in fact be surreal. His music brought rock and roll back from the dead. Literally. Rock and roll up until that point was dominated by schlocky, vampiric hair-bands, who for all intents and purposes, resembled the featured extras in a homoerotic remake of Night of the Living Dead. Zombies in tight sparkle pants. And mullets galore.

Cobain made rock real again. He made it tangible. Ironically, he made it just tangible enough to be manufactured in factories worldwide. Stewart theorized that Cobain threw his life away to escape the version of himself that was being packaged and sold for $19.99 in Wal-Mart. Fast-food psychoanalysis, possibly, but a valid point. He did become a pop icon, the voice of a generation, and in the eyes of corporate America, an indispensible cash cow. He wore a ‘Corporate Magazines Suck’ T-shirt on the cover of a corporate magazine, but it was still him wearing that shirt—on that corporate magazine. Until he could eliminate himself from the commercialism that was attached to his hip, it would never be anything more than commercialism. Ergo, the shotgun blast to the head—

By killing himself, he killed corporate America, if only his version of it.

***

Thomas Harrison and his younger sister Bridget are long-suffering teenagers trapped in the hell that was 1994. Long-suffering kids who’ve yet to experience the world, but are already sick of it; they’re tired of corporate greed; of being a half-assed imitation of something instead of simply being one’s self, no matter how tragic or pathetic that self might be; of creative oppression (despite seemingly getting away with everything). The two protagonists of William Dickerson’s debut novel, No Alternative, are endemic of a neither here nor there rage that populated the lost cross section between Generation X and Generation Y—rage rooted in the frustration noted by Tyler Durden in the novel and film Fight Club: they are the middle children of history, with no great wars or oppressors to confront but their own extreme personal and social dissatisfaction.

The novel opens six months after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Thomas is a believer—someone who looks to Cobain and his influence, what he stood for and what he fought to represent. His sister, Bridget, is bi-polar, prone to random acts of violence (sometimes verbal, sometimes physical), and sees Cobain’s legacy in a way that diverges from her brother’s; though she’s younger, she seems to understand both the positive aspects to Cobain’s influence, and where he fell short—most notable in how he chose to exit this world. Thomas starts a band with several close friends, doing their grunge-worthy damnedest to live up to the legend and all its perceived ideals; Bridget, meanwhile, dons a gangsta rap persona, Bri-Da-B, and starts performing at open mic nights, keyboard (and inexplicably charming racism) in tow.

Much of one’s enjoyment of No Alternative will stem from one’s allegiance to the message and the music of the time. I was in eighth grade when Cobain put the double barrels of a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Neither before, nor after, could I ever comprehend the frustration and anger inherent with Nirvana’s music. To this day I respect their influence, and their place in music history, but at no point have I ever been so miserable or disaffected with life to feel a kinship with that particular style. And I was a pretty fucking depressed teenager, let me tell you… When separated from the music and their desire to express their innermost selves, Thomas and Bridget’s journeys are decidedly light on experiences: a bit of underage sex, a few emotional dust-ups, and some parental run-ins account for the bulk of this title’s conflict and narrative beats. In spite of this, No Alternative is not light on content. In fact, this is one of its key problems.

Narratively speaking, No Alternative is a bit of a lumbering beast. Dickerson’s tone and pacing are undone by a propensity to over-embellish, often to damaging degrees. Whether it is the introduction of Thomas and Bridget’s hot-under-the-collar Supreme Court Justice father, a diversion about ceramic cookware, dissections of the fitting problems surrounding Converse Chuck Taylors, or telling us of the artistic life Maureen gave up so that she wouldn’t be forced to compete with her daughter, the novel dumps an unfortunately large amount of information onto the reader, telling us in plain, overbearing language what it has failed to show—a cardinal sin if there ever was one. Often this information does little except to hammer home the fact that, hey, this book takes place in 1994. There’s little authorial confidence in this title. It’s as if Dickerson didn’t have faith in the readers to simply understand or research possible cultural touchstones on their own merits; instead he introduces each of these elements with an anthropological stance, explaining in too much detail the meaning or purpose behind this or that which was critical at the time. Instead of giving the book a convincing 1994 flavour, it pulls the reader out of the scene, often crashing the narrative’s momentum into a brick wall. In instances like this, and others when the book takes unconventional leaps into the future (such as explaining how Dana Plato would die, and then ten years after her son would follow), it feels a little like Dickerson’s aiming for the multi-personality structure of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, but doesn’t go far enough to give the anthropological asides their due in this regard. And as previously mentioned, they stick out. If there is one narrative lesson to take from this book, it is the age-old show, don’t tell.

There are several other problems with the novel—most of them relatively minor. It’s a self-published work, which carries with it certain drawbacks that are feeling more and more common in self-published works, which are unfortunately saddling the sub-genre (if it can be called such a thing) with possibly unfair expectations. The spelling is pretty on point, but there are frequent problems with grammar—extra spaces at the beginning of each sentence, missing hyphens and inconsistencies with naming conventions. In fact, naming rule of thumb: don’t underline book, film, or album titles. In fact, don’t underline, period. Books, albums, television shows, movies, and video games: italicize. Chapters within books, articles within magazines, songs on albums, or episodes of television shows: place inside quotation marks. Additionally there’s the odd fact-checking error (there are nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, not seven). But the big thing, the thing that really annoyed me and is an absolute no-no of layout and design, is the frequent problems in hyphenation across two lines or over two pages. Often the hyphen is not at a syllable break, and therefore is a constant trip-up. Worse, however, is the frequency at which single-syllable words are hyphenated across lines and pages. This is absolutely an error and very much affected both my basic reading of the book as well as my enjoyment. It’s the most glaring visual problem with the book, and it is frequent enough that it highlights the fact that this is a self-published title.

The most unforgivable issues, however, are of personal taste and have to do with tone and trickery. Beware, spoilers from this point through to the end of the review.

First, the case of language:

“I know something you can do with those fingers.”

She looks at him reassuringly, then whispers into his ear—

“Rape me.”

She pushes his hand down into her crotch.

“I give you permission.”

Thomas, pulling his hand back, like his elbow is spring-loaded. “Jackie, you can stop coming on so strong. I know you’re not really like this.”

Until this point, Thomas has been presented as having a chip on his shoulder, but still relatively normal—as normal as bitter, grunge-addicted teenagers in 1994 could be. But what she says… the moment she tells him to rape her, that she gives him permission, and he DOESN’T flip his shit and step back, flabbergasted that she’d be absurd enough to say it like that, that he isn’t completely turned off by that, killed his character for me. And that they’re all over one another on the very next page only nailed the lid on his coffin that much tighter.

And then we have the Alex/Jackie affair:

Then, in a strikingly bold maneuver for a girl of such delicate age and pedigree, she takes the remainder of his beer and pours it onto her exposed vagina. She douses herself, marinating her labia with every fermented nuance of the microbrew. Alex’s salivary glands rev into overdrive, enough that he spits a loogie into a puddle of piss that has formed on the floor before diving to his knees and plunging his face into her pungent crotch.

The tone of this encounter, and indeed of all sexual encounters in this book, is overwritten and unnecessarily vulgar. There’s a degree of unbelievable gratuity written into the sexual encounters in this novel that feels forced through an unrealistic lens. Maybe I’ve just led that sheltered a life, but these scenes did nothing for me. Similar to the overwritten accounts of the details and things inherent to the time frame of the novel, these only served to pull me out of the moment, not draw me further in.

And lastly, there is the twist—both in terms of plot and in terms of unmasking the narrator. In short, this was unearned. Without giving everything away, there was not, for me, believable emotional groundwork to make me believe Thomas would do what he did. It felt random and mostly without reason. The few details that had been given to that point—problems with friends, with direction in life, with… well, genital warts—did not warrant or lead to me being anything less than furious at the outcome. Not because I had grown attached to the character or his arc, but because it felt like a betrayal of whatever strength of character he’d shown to that point. And the reveal of the narrator (which had, until that point, not been at all clear—to the point where the breaking of the fourth wall at times throughout the story felt like a mistake or a gratuity that broke form) in the aftermath of the event made me feel as if I’d been tricked, and not in a way that made sense.

Bridget is, without question, the heart, soul, and primary interest of No Alternative. Her character—her arc, her creative exploration—is what grounds the narrative in any way. Without her, it would fall apart entirely. Though the grunge era has a great deal of anger and self-destruction to mine for future narratives, Dickerson’s novel is startlingly light on depth, focusing more on explaining the minutia of the there and then instead of searching the fragile depths of Thomas’s innermost feelings and potentially scarred rationality. Had Thomas and his parents been explored to the same degree as Bridget, with less care paid to hammering home the specifics of the time and the politics behind the grunge movement and what had gotten lost in the space between Lennon and Cobain’s deaths, the novel might have achieved a greater understanding of the period in time to which it pays tribute.

It’s clear that Dickerson has a deep-seated love for the 1990s and the upheavals of the day—emotional, political, and social. The novel, however, could use another pass or two to better enunciate why.

Review: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, by Kevin Dutton

>>Published: October 2012

“I’ve always maintained that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do so at the stock exchange,” he enthused. “Without doubt, there’s a greater proportion of psychopathic big hitters in the corporate world than there is in the general population. You’ll find them in any organization where your position and status afford you power and control over others, and the chance of material gain.”

His coauthor on the corporate psychopathy paper, New York industrial and organizational psychologist Paul Babiak, agrees.

“The psychopath has no difficulty dealing with the consequences of rapid change. In fact, he or she thrives on it,” he explains. “Organizational chaos provides both the necessary stimulation for psychopathic thrill seeking and sufficient cover for psychopathic manipulation and abusive behavior.”

Ironically, the rule-bending, risk-taking, thrill-seeking individuals who were responsible for tipping the world economy over the edge are precisely the same personalities who will come to the fore in the wreckage. Just like Frank Abagnale, they are the mice who fall into the cream, fight and fight, and churn that cream into butter.

***

The word “psychopath” carries with it certain unavoidable connotations: images of famous serial killers, like Ted Bundy or Henry Lee Lucas and the almost mythic stories surrounding their individual reigns of terror; thoughts of men and women filled with uncontrollable, malevolent thoughts, in many cases acting on them to the harm and detriment of others. More and more, however, the term is finding application in more readily acceptable spheres—politics and the financial markets, to name a couple of quick and obvious examples, where making a killing, as nefarious as it sounds, is a far more benign proposition than its literal alternative. Even more interesting are the misnomers surrounding genuine psychopathy and what it truly means to be psychotic—and what such personality traits mean for the probability of success.

In his new book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, University of Cambridge professor of social psychology Dr. Kevin Dutton deep dives the psychopathic mind in order to strip away some of the more notorious preconceptions that have dogged psychopaths for generations, and in the process to offer a better understanding of their particular, often feared psychologies.

There’s an adaptive nature to psychopaths not accurately shown in most public portrayals. It isn’t rooted in amorality or malicious intent, but in an emotional fearlessness that, when balanced with an awareness of social expectations and/or knowledge or passion towards socially acceptable ventures or professions, gives psychopaths a noticeable leg-up. On the outside this can be represented by an unconventionally high degree of personal magnetism, or confidence, or the ability to disguise oneself—to play to the crowd, so to speak, no matter the attributes of said crowd; or maybe it reveals itself as uncanny business acumen, or willingness to go into battle regardless of whether or not the odds of survival are low. The point Dutton makes is that contrary to popular belief, there are uses—indeed necessities—for a mind more prone to stereotypically psychopathic traits, especially when presented with situations where emotional vulnerabilities are potentially grave liabilities.

The portraits of psychopaths Dutton paints are not the Patrick Bateman/Hannibal Lecture-style geniuses whose penchant for murder is well hidden beneath their business and academic minds. Those certainly exist and should be feared; however, most cases of psychopathy can be presented, as strange as this might sound, as being of exquisitely analytical and sound mind:

“Language, for psychopaths, is only word deep. There’s no emotional contouring behind it. A psychopath may say something like ‘I love you,’ but in reality, it means about as much to him as if he said ‘I’ll have a cup of coffee.’… This is one of the reasons why psychopaths remain so cool, calm, and collected under conditions of extreme danger, and why they are so reward-driven and take risks. Their brains, quite literally, are less ‘switched on’ than the rest of ours.”

Because of this, a psychopathic mind (providing it does not sway too far to one extreme or the other) can be expertly employed in situations requiring planning or some sort of conflict resolution.

So what can psychopaths teach us? That, for the most part, our problems—our fears and apprehensions that cripple us daily, or cause us to procrastinate and not live our lives to the potential we so desperately want to believe is inside each of us—are problems of the heart, and that it is how we are tuned to our emotions, and the degree to which they dominate our doubts, that exemplifies our collective weaknesses. Does this mean a balanced, socially integrated functional psychopath has an advantage over the average man, woman, and hopefully non-psychopathic child? It depends on the situation: when playing the stock market, most assuredly, as one cannot ever let one’s emotions be rattled by a loss—therein lies financial death and a quick shuttling to the side for this guy over here with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a willingness to take a beating one day and come back swinging hard the next; but when, say, teaching a class in an elementary or high school setting, not likely, as the inability to sync with individuals who are by and large emotional lightning rods could be potentially exhausting for all parties involved.

A psychopath is not necessarily a killer, or a heartless machine capable of only taking advantage of others, as we’re so frequently instructed to believe (given the rampant overuse and abuse of the term). That stereotype exists for a reason, as it is sometimes accurate; but, as with all points on the psychological spectrum, there are an infinite number of shades of grey that can be used to better define psychopathy to individual standards. Dutton’s examination goes a fair distance in disproving the concreteness of the stereotype, while opening the conversation to new possibilities as to how we see our business and political leaders, and even our more successful surgeons, spies, and military personnel. These professions, and many others, cater to a certain degree of psychopathy, which can often be mistaken for simply luck or confidence, but is in fact a much more complicated matter, one contained within the physiology of a surprisingly large amount of the population.