The memoir of a neuroscientist whose research led him to a bizarre personal discovery, James Fallon had spent an entire career studying how our brains affect our behavior when his research suddenly turned personal.
While studying brain scans of several family members, he discovered that one perfectly matched a pattern he’d found in the brains of serial killers. This meant one of two things: Either his family’s scans had been mixed up with those of felons or someone in his family was a psychopath. Even more disturbing: The scan in question was his own. This is Fallon’s account of coming to grips with this discovery and its implications.
How could he, a happy family man who had never been prone to violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior? Fallon shares his journey to answer these questions and the discoveries that ultimately led to his conclusion: Despite everything science can teach, humans are even more complex than we can imagine.
“As comprehensive as it is compelling, essential listening for understanding the genetic and neuroscience underpinnings of psychopathy.” (M. E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath)
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Entertaining story with some quick neuroscience
The book itself is interesting on several levels. It tells the story of a successful Professor who stumbled across the finding that his brain resembled those of psychopaths and serial killers. In researching himself he also discovered murderers in his extended family tree.
The underlying neuroscience of psychopathy was presented in lightning fast speed that was hard to follow in the audible version, even for someone like myself who is a physician. I ended up buying the printed book so I could reread those sections and look at the images and diagrams.
One particularly useful point in the book is his distinction between psychopathic and antisocial. His brain was psychopathic but his behavior was not antisocial. I regard this as a meaningful and helpful distinction.
Professor Fallon's personal story was fascinating if more than a trace narcissistic. I also had the sense that he greatly minimized some of his peccadillos in the middle of the book while alluding to greater indiscretions toward the end.
The subtextual question of nature versus nurture runs through the book. Professor Fallon's bias is toward the nature explanation, stating that 80% of who we are is determined by our inborn biology and the structure of our brain. At the end he does leave the door open to the possibility that it was the nurturing tolerance of and containment of his youthful adventurous escapades by his understanding parents that shepherded his psychopathic brain into a productive life with only minimal misbehavior.
This is a fun book to listen to for an aerial view of the topic. It will be sufficient for most readers. The more serious student of the topic will need to pursue it elsewhere but this is an entertaining start.
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