Dangerous Personalities Reviewed

A book has been reviewed! However, the book in question is not a book I’ve written. Rather, it is a book that I have reviewed. It’s an ebook called Dangerous Personalities by Joe Navarro, a former F.B.I. profiler and it’s all about, well, dangerous personalities like sociopaths and paranoiacs. While his book is geared toward helping average people recognize and avoid these types of people, I’ve gone ahead and reviewed it for how it can be useful for fiction writers in developing our villains.

(Note: this was review was originally published on Goodreads, but I took it down when I realized it’s not a good idea for authors to be reviewing other authors on there).

While this book is designed as a self-defense tool for the average person, and it is excellent in that regard, I have a fascination with abnormal psychology that started when I began researching villains for my fiction stories. Not an evildoer myself, I needed to understand what was driving these people in order to portray convincing villains.

So I’ve gone through Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, Robert Hare’s Without Conscience, and denser works like The Mask of Sanity among others. I prefer the popularizations by academics because you’re getting quality information in a readable format rather than the unreadable academese and tedious data sets you get in journal articles.

However a book like this, by a law enforcement professional and former F.B.I. profiler, is also a welcome addition as where crime and abnormal psychology overlap is of particular interest to fiction writers.

Dangerous Personalities is fairly unique in that it discusses four separate dangerous personality types: narcissist, paranoid, what Navarro calls ‘emotionally unstable’ (covering histrionic and borderline), and finally ‘predator’ which is his blanket term for psychopath, sociopath, and antisocial personality disorders. I don’t blame him for using the more generalized terms as the way some of those terms get thrown around—particularly psychopath and sociopath—vary from era to era, from country to country, and even from researcher to researcher.

And I applaud him for covering the paranoid and the borderline, two personality disorders that can be as dangerous as the others yet get a fraction of the coverage or fictional portrayals as the better-known types.

As a fiction writer, there are several other useful things here. One, the extensive word lists used to describe each of the four dangerous personality types provide an excellent source of synonyms and character descriptors and dialogue suggestions. Likewise, the extensive (100+ item) informal checklists can be helpful in character creation.

The author also does a solid job in talking about comorbidity in personality disorders, which many of the popularizations never discuss as they are so focused on psychopathy. That said, there are some criticisms to be found. For one, I would have preferred far more anecdotal case evidence drawn from the author’s own personal and professional experience as an F.B.I. profiler, or even from stories gathered from colleagues. There are a few he relates from personal experience, but too  many are summations of well-known cases already covered ad nauseum by the media: Waco, Jim Jones, the Unabomber, etc. And all three of those cases have little to do with your garden variety, spouse-killing murder.

Reading brief summations of the deeds of Joseph Stalin isn’t interesting in this context—his cruelty and paranoia is well known to any reasonably well-read person and we are not likely to encounter a Joseph Stalin in our daily lives. Terse summaries of the Travis Alexander case don’t shed new insight into the personality of Jodi Arias, either, in what’s already a widely publicized and well-known case. Again and again, the real life examples here are drawn from popular, well-known cases like Columbine with almost no insight added. People are far more likely to encounter embezzlers, grifters, con men, child molesters, stalkers, and other toxic people who while not history’s greatest monsters are still dangerous and destructive personalities.

So I would’ve preferred anonymous, name changed, or even fictionalized case studies and recollections like we get in the work of Stout, Hare, and even Cleckley. Those little anecdotes provide so much more insight and unique touches about the abnormal personalities. It’s hard to forget Cleckley’s hard-partying university professor who blows into town with a false degree, drunkenly insults everyone at a cocktail party, then while fully intoxicated straight into a whorehouse! Unfortunately, there’s little that’s personal or new here, which is a shame given the author’s background. I would’ve liked more, like how did the F.B.I. profilers decide some guy was a narcissist and not a psychopath, or going around talking to friends and family of some deceased perpetrator in an example of a genuine psychological post-mortem.

Still, for 99 cents I’m more than happy to add this to my collection.

One minor typographic note, but it bothered me the author and his editor used numerals instead of spelling out smaller numbers as words. Maybe that’s how it’s done in government reports, but it’s irksome when it goes against conventional style manuals.

Vocabulary word learned: Coryphaeus, meaning “leader of the chorus”!

So if you’re a fiction writer and wondering how to make a more convincing villain, and less of a cartoonish supervillain, that book is a great start! I review other books from time to time, both romance and in some of my other interests.You can get the book on Amazon here.

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