The Wisdom of Psychopaths

What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

Kevin Dutton

Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.

Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.

As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.  


Read an Excerpt

Great and Good are seldom the same man.

A scorpion and a frog are sitting on the bank of a river, and both need to get to the other side.
“Hello, Mr. Frog!” calls the scorpion through the reeds. “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the water? I have important business to conduct on the other side. And I cannot swim in such a strong current.”
The frog immediately becomes suspicious.
“Well, Mr. Scorpion,” he replies, “I appreciate the



  • Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Kevin Dutton on MSNBC's The Cycle: Aspiring to be a psychopath

    Kevin Dutton, author of “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” discusses the character traits of psychopaths, why it may not necessarily be a bad thing, and how even some of The Cycle hosts fit the bill.

  • CNN Profiles: The psychopath detector

    (CNN) – Are you or is someone you know a psychopath? Wait – let's reframe that question. Do you or someone you know fall somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum?

  • Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test.

    Psychologist Kevin Dutton presents the classic psychological test known as "the trolley problem" with a variation. Take the test and measure you response on the psychopathic spectrum.



Praise for The Wisdom of Psychopaths

In the Press

Book Review: The Wisdom of Psychopaths - WSJ.com
Michael Shermer reviews Kevin Dutton's The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.
- The Wall Street Journal
How psychopaths take over - Salon.com
Sometimes being mad is a good thing. An Oxford scientist suggests we should all learn to act a little crazy
- Salon
Can psychopaths really teach us about success?
From TV's nice-guy serial killer 'Dexter' to the new comedy movie 'Seven Psychopaths,' perhaps society is ready to embrace psychopaths, at least a little.
- USA Today
Take the Psychopath Challenge | Scientific American and FSG Books
- Scientific American Books
The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton
A convincing study shows that business leaders and serial killers share a mindset, writes Tim Adams
- The Observer (UK)
Some Surprising Things You Never Knew About Psychopaths | Scientific American and FSG Books
- Scientific American Books
Speaking of the Olympics: Seven Things That Psychopaths Have in Common with Great Athletes | Scientific American and FSG Books
- Scientific American Books
The Dirty Half Dozen | Work in Progress
If you thought Gordon Gekko was the undisputed champion of corporate psychopathy, then think again because Bateman makes Gekko look like the angst-ridden, self-harming treasurer of a Mormon prayer group.
- FSG's Work in Progress

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Kevin Dutton

  • Dr. Kevin Dutton is a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science, Magdalen College, University of Oxford. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. Dutton is the author of Split-Second Persuasion. His writing and research have been featured in Scientific American Mind, New Scientist, The Guardian, Psychology Today, and USA Today. He lives in Oxford, England.

  • Kevin Dutton © Paul Robert Williams
    Kevin Dutton


Available Formats and Book Details

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

Kevin Dutton