The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience

by Kent A. Kiehl

As a layperson with no research or psychological training this is a fascinating look at the intersection of brain imaging and psychopathic behavior.

Kiehl definitely has an engaging way of telling stories, and the way he starts out visiting psychopaths in a Canadian prison definitely draws you in. Like Kiehl, the reader can’t help yearning for the elusive why? Why or how are psychopath brains different that allows them to be so emotionally disconnected?

What seemed valuable to me in this book was threefold: an emphasis on research-based/supported tools for classifying psychopaths as adults and juveniles, an explanation of the niche world of MRI imaging instrumentation, and a carefulness in dealing with predictive imaging/analysis for youth so as to not label them into a self-fulfilling prophecy of psychopathy.

While the good old boy ex-football player socially astute tone of the narrative was engaging at first, near the end of the book it took on just a hint of self-aggrandizing when relating the various career paths (i.e. moving to New Mexico Mind Center) and police cases Kiehl is involved with. Near the end of the book I began to look for evidence that the generally successful career trend Kiehl portrays in the book replete with best friends in various cities that just happen to have the exact expertise he needs at each stage and with whom he eats steaks had any kind of real life obstacles and false starts that seem to be part of real life. It was just….too golden boy.

But his personal career aside, Kiehl does do a bang up job of explaining how nuero-science and psychological assessments interact with legal and moral issues when dealing with psychopathy. Fascinating.