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Please bear with me as I first talk about what drew me to this book, that requires a lot of explanation about James Fallon, who is a neuroscientist but who did not write this book.
I recently heard a TED Radio Hour segment by James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine, who has been working with psychopaths, trying to physically differentiate the brain of a killer from that of a nonkiller. He was clued in by his mother that his father's family might have some members who were worth studying. He discovered that there was "a whole lineage of violent people-killers" including a connection of Lizzie Borden, who let it be said was acquitted of killing her parents in a court of law, but who has certainly been convicted in the court of public opinion. In a study he had done on Alzheimer's, he had talked family members into taking a PET scan and contributing a DNA sample, now he began to analyze these for signs of abnormality.
In reviewing the PET scan and genotypes of his close family members including his mother, wife and children, they were perfectly normal. But his own PET scan showed a lack of activity in his orbital cortex, a sign that many neuroscientists would regard as significant in that the orbital cortex is supposed to help to control another part of the brain called the amygdala that is associated with aggression. He also looked at the MAO-A gene in his DNA. This is a gene associated with the regulation of serotonin in the brain. If the person has a particular variant of the gene then the brain may not respond to the calming effects of serotonin.
Fallon's conclusion was he was separated from psychopaths who act out on their impulses by a loving and supportive upbringing. According to his TED talk, an insult to the brain or severe trauma at the right (very young) age is the link that might trigger the negative aspects of these variants.
I found this intriguing, so when I saw that this book was about the anatomical aspects of the roots of violence I couldn't pass it up.
First, it's readable. It's written at a level that is accessible to the average reader with some knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and an interest in crime. I don't buy his theories whole hog, but added to what I've read elsewhere and some experience that I have with multi-generational bad actors in families, I find this intriguing.
Adrian Raine talks about his own studies into psychopathy utilizing temp workers-- that's why they have been so unreliable!, longitudinal studies of twins and children and "The Selfish Gene"-- he was taught at University by Dawkins. He also gives examples from his own work in facilities for the criminally insane with violent rapists and murderers, and from his own exposure to criminal violence.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in crime and criminals and also likes to muse as to why it is that certain tropes are so popular within certain genres.
And then, shades of Bones, it looks like they are going to make Adrian Raine into a semi-fictional character in a TV crime drama-- I swear, the US just make make me want to pound my head against my monitor at times.
The narrator is quite good and easy to listen to.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of The Anatomy of Violence to be better than the print version?
Yes - only because reading a book like this may bring on napping whereas listening to this book on the road made it easy to follow.
What other book might you compare The Anatomy of Violence to and why?
Probably "The Wisdom of Psychopaths" by Kevin Dutton. Raine's "Anatomy of Violence" was clearly more exhaustive; however "Wisdom of Psychopaths" was an easier read. Both books do an excellent job reviewing psychopathy and disorders in the brain.
Which character – as performed by Jonathan Cowley – was your favorite?
He was the narrator and did not perform any characters.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Yes - Raine provided a case where a large African American man broke into a young Caucasian woman's apartment and brutally raped her repeatedly, beat her to a pulp, and then slit her throat. It was extremely graphic and made me feel dirty; however the questions posed by the case and the points Raine was trying to make really stuck with me.
Any additional comments?
Excellent and exhaustive look at the neuroscience of violence! Raine did an incredible job compiling his research, along with others in the field, and presenting it in a reasonable and topical format.
"The Anatomy of Violence" spends a majority of the time examining aspects and structures of the brain that are correlated with violence; however Raine takes it a step further to examine the heart, sweat glands, and other minor organs of offenders to look for correlations and patterns.
Raine also spends time looking at socio-economic factors and family influences to finally bridge the gap of the "nature vs. nurture" debate. Most of his examples and case studies were well picked and referenced to illustrate many of his points.
The only low point of the book was when he offers a hypothetical world and society in 2034. I'm not a fan of hypothetical's, but Raine did a great job using the hypothetical "future" to address philosophical and ethical questions to the reader. I've rarely read other non-fiction works that pose questions back to the reader, so I found this very engaging and impressive.
Pros: Comprehensive and organized look at the external and internal forces that produce violence in humans.
Cons: More case studies and criminal interviews would've been nice, but there were no major cons.
Bottom line: Excellent for anyone interested in crime and how alterations in the brain can affect behavior.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful