Confessions of a Sociopath opens on a disturbing scene. Author M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) finds a baby opossum in her swimming pool. Fetching the skimmer, she uses it to hold the animal underwater; when it escapes, she leaves it to drown, returning later to toss the body over her neighbor’s fence. Does this sound like you or anyone you know? If it did, would you admit it?

Confessions of a Sociopath mingles elements of memoir with some scientific analysis and material from the author’s blog, SociopathWorld. Her own psychological evaluation defines her as “egocentric” and “sensation-seeking,” focused on “interpersonal dominance, verbal aggression, and excessive self-esteem.” Living in constant pursuit of her own advantage in any situation, with no regard for the emotions of others, Thomas has essentially lied, cheated and stolen her way to a good life, working less than half-time as a law professor and “ruining people” for sport, from fellow faculty members to romantic interests. A devout Mormon, she teaches Sunday school and claims to adhere to moral guidelines (she isn’t physically violent, for example), but finds wiggle room in even the most straightforward rules and exploits them to her benefit.

The book is fascinating for its glimpse behind the curtain, but it’s not without its flaws. The combination of a pseudonymous author who has blurred many identifying details with a sociopath’s lack of emotional connection leaves the experiences recounted here somewhat lifeless. Thomas also contradicts herself, boasting at length about her ability to ruin people, then giving a tame example and speculating that it was harmless to those involved. Most surprisingly, she initially calls her childhood “unremarkable,” then goes on to describe an upbringing shot through with abuse, neglect and melodrama verging on the operatic. It may not be the direct cause of her condition, but unremarkable? No way.

It’s a sociopath’s prerogative to be evasive, so we may never reach a full understanding of how the condition takes root or if it can be, if not cured, at least constructively channeled. Confessions of a Sociopath offers no easy explanations, but it’s an unsettling look at something that is far more common than most of us realize.

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