Not everyone loves the Sociopath Next Door. If you look at the ratings on Goodreads, you’ll see some very unfavourable opinions and a fair amount of criticism. So, I was pretty surprised to find how much I appreciated this book for its fascinating assessments, analyses and case studies. Sure, I didn’t like everything about it and didn’t agree on every point, yet I found it captured my attention from the offset and gave me plenty of insightful information to mull over.
I will say that some information could be misleading if taken at face value- if you’re familiar with statistics around anti-social personality disorder, you may be aware that:
- 4% figure usually refers to anti-social personality disorder includes narcissists, who are not nearly as dangerous
- According to The Psychopath Test, most sociopaths/psychopaths are drawn to the thrills of crime and are in prison, thus the percentage is more like 1% of the general population have anti-social personality disorder.
So yes, I would agree that part of this is sensationalised (or, to be more generous, not as developed as it could be. For instance, there also could have been some discussion of the prevailing view of the difference between psychopaths being born and sociopaths being “made”).
That said, I did like hearing some ideas I hadn’t come across before. The most fascinating concept for me personally (which I have now seen discussed elsewhere) is the idea that anti-social disorder could develop out of attachment disorder, rather than abuse per se.
Interestingly, one of my biggest contentions with her argument was her discussion on the fault lines of pure reason, where Stout expressed the idea that conscience runs counter to logic, which is not something I personally agree with… And yet, by the end of the book, I found we were both on the same page, as Stout expresses how acting ruthlessly does not bring you more of the good things in life. Ultimately, she proves time and again that dominating others brings nothing but destruction (and, frankly, that assholes get what’s coming to them). With her view that love brings you happiness, the book ends on a surprisingly hopeful note- and that was both unexpected and worthwhile.
Okay, so then why has this book provoked such a negative reaction? Well, I couldn’t help but look at some of the popular reviews and respond accordingly. Here were some of the critiques of the book and my takes on them:
Argument 1: the book is a witch hunt. It encourages people to identify sociopaths in their midst.
My take: I didn’t see this as saying *all* evil people are sociopaths- it was merely identifying some cases. In fact, she gave examples of how a compassionate person could make decisions that were not always compassionate. Thus, I would not say it is fair to say that this attempts to explain away all of human hurt, just some of it. Of course not everyone is a sociopath- but some people are and it is useful to identify that (or at the very least be wary of certain behaviours).
Argument 2: it divides people into two classes
My take: well, you could make this argument about any disorder or condition. If you were to talk about the mindset of a depressive, for instance, you might compare it with someone who is not suffering from depression. Indeed, it can also be helpful in treatment- in CBT, getting someone with depression or anxiety to look at things from another angle can be helpful. Therefore, I think it is perfectly reasonable to differentiate between those who have a condition and those who do not. It’s also important to note that sociopaths are not victimised by someone analysing the condition- to believe this would be to miss the real victims (ie those who are manipulated and abused).
Argument 3: It was too broad sweeping at times.
My take: I’d partially agree- as I pointed out before, this book wasn’t perfect. I’d definitely have to chime in on the fact that the “three lies and they’re a sociopath” is a weak test. But then, I also assumed that the author meant big lies- not white lies- which leads me to my main contention with this argument: use your common sense. Likewise, asking for mercy may not always be coming from a manipulative place… but it could be. Clearly, not every liar or layabout is a sociopath- but the ones who repeatedly manipulate might be. To that end, I think reading this book could offer valuable insight to potential victims.
Now, I think that covers the main complaints. I can understand having issues with this- it is not a perfect work. I personally have been reading/listening to psychologists speak more on the subject and think there is *a lot* more to explore. After my continued research, I would discourage anyone to take this as a gold standard on what sociopathy means. Still, I do think that the overly critical takes have missed the entirely hopeful message about love. And that is a shame.
Rating: 4½/5 bananas
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my analyses or do you have another point of view? Let me know in the comments!