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Without Conscience

The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Written by: Robert D. Hare
Narrated by: Paul Boehmer
Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Most people are both repelled and intrigued by the images of cold-blooded, conscienceless murderers that increasingly populate our movies, television programs, and newspaper headlines. With their flagrant criminal violation of society's rules, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are among the most dramatic examples of the psychopath. Individuals with this personality disorder are fully aware of the consequences of their actions and know the difference between right and wrong, yet they are terrifyingly self-centered, remorseless, and unable to care about the feelings of others. Perhaps most frightening, they often seem completely normal to unsuspecting targets. Presenting a compelling portrait of these dangerous men and women based on 25 years of distinguished scientific research, Dr. Robert D. Hare vividly describes a world of con artists, hustlers, rapists, and other predators who charm, lie, and manipulate their way through life. Are psychopaths mad, or simply bad? How can they be recognized? And how can we protect ourselves? This book provides solid information and surprising insights for anyone seeking to understand this devastating condition.

©1999 Robert D. Hare, Ph.D. (P)2011 Tantor

What the critics say

"A fascinating, if terrifying, look at psychopaths.... Hare makes a strong case for the view that psychopaths are born, not made.... A chilling, eye-opening report - and a call to action." ( Kirkus)

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A Societal Warning (review + anecdote below!)

My fascination-turned research on Psychpathy came about as a result of personal experience. I am only 32, but I have met 3 individuals who (I believe) meet this criteria.

To discover someone pretended to be human and fabricated every aspect you ever liked about them....is horrifying and mind-blowing. Their masks are practiced. Their ability to sense your vulnerabilities makes them dangerous, especially if you are an empath, successful, or popular. If you have anything they envy or want to destroy. To realize you were duped, and that you dismissed your intuition, warning signs, and suspicion after the fact is eye-opening.

To summarize my review, Dr. Hare is the world's leading expert on a subject that has been largely denied for centuries. If people do not wake up out if denial and stop thinking that these people are treatable or capable of any rehabilitation, people will continue to be hurt when it is preventable. No one wants to accept that social predators exist, especially among children and likeable people, but we need to be educated about how to spot them, avoid them, and cope with their actions.

***If you would like to read about one of my personal experiences, keep reading***

Anecdote: The unlikely psychopathic female you would never suspect

These individuals are in every facet of society and could even be the 23 year old girl at your College who helps disabled children in her spare time and runs fundraisers for Autism Awareness. A girl who will get her diploma in Social Work and go on to "help" vulnerable individuals. To anyone who meets her, she is full of "kindness", compassion, charm, intellect, and charisma. She is pretty and desired by men. She is happy all the time, enthusiastic about everything and everyone, and happy to go out of her way to "support" you if you are down. She is very popular and has lots of friends, especially within her clique. If someone had told me this girl was dangerous I would have taken it as a joke without a secnd thought.....If you only knew what this girl did to my life and my sanity...I never even saw it coming....

She deliberately and maliciously tried to sabotage and destroy my relationship with my partner, my school placement, my relations with professors and peers, and my sanity altogether. All for no reason other than her own amusement. When I felt something was off and discovered my new "friend" was crossing serious lines and infecting areas of my life while getting close to me....She changed from who I thought she was into something vicious and wicked seemingly within seconds after I confronted her. She *literally* laughed at my hurt, my pain, my tears, my suffering, mocked me for being hurt, and called me pathetic. All while denying all of it and patronizing me, claiming she didnt like "drama" (accusing ME of causing conflict!?!) Even above abusive men, she is the most talented gaslighter I have ever met. She claimed SHE was the victim, that I "used"her as an excuse to make her a scapegoat for all of my "failures" and numerous "personal issues". She kept repeating that she "didnt allow drama into her life because she was too busy enjoying it", accusing me of lacking maturity. She baited me into getting angry so that I would lash out, making ME look and feel crazy so I would doubt myself. Let me tell you....this was mind-blowing. After I confronted her and ended the conversation I didnt even understand what just happened. It took me a while to wrap my head around what did happen. I felt shocked, confused, betrayed, hurt, outraged, frustrated, and *creeped right out*. It was eerie how she was the polar opposite of the persona she had constructed. That was who (or what) was behind the mask. Adding to my frustration, I felt no one would ever believe me if I told them...

**My message** Be careful of anyone you sense to be glib, supeficial, and fake (too good to be true, too perfect). NO ONE is that happy all the time. I was suspect of her sincerity and selflessness very early on. It wasnt natural. She wasn't Jesus.

I did outsmart her in the end though (without her ever knowing) by anticipating her next moves and baiting her to take off her mask where she would be exposed as the creature she was...I told the right people that I was afraid she intended to cause me harm (a professor and supervisor). I expected her to make the mistake of taking my bait when I confronted her again. She did. It backfired. I feel satisified she is being watched now and that her mask slipped in front of the wrong people. This was the best I could ever do aside from avoid her. Advice: NEVER challenge them openly. They WILL win every time. I knew better, thankfully.


This book is an educational tool written by someone who has authority to speak on the subject, and is my hero for his work.

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  • Douglas
  • 2012-03-01

When I gave up on books that supposedly would...

tell me how to avoid getting taken advantage of (like the moronic How To Deal With Difficult People) and the worse than useless In Sheep's Clothing), I decided to take a look at the opposite end of the problem--the manipulators themselves: a much better idea, as it turns out. Without Conscience provides a nicely developed portrait of the psychopath, people born without the ability to empathize and register normal human feelings, even though they can imitate them convincingly enough to con and abuse others. (There are an estimated 2 million psychopaths among us in the US, and they are not to be confused with their most extreme representative: the serial killer. Chances are you know or have known a psychopath.) The neurology represented in this book is a bit behind the current wisdom and for better information about the brain's role in psychopathy, one might read The Science Of Evil and The Tell-Tale Brain. Overall, Without Conscience is a very useful book for understanding the serious manipulator and how to deal with him/her.

77 of 79 people found this review helpful

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  • PhreshMeet
  • 2012-03-26

Father of a certain school of thought

This book was written twenty years ago but the concepts are not dated. Hare developed the Hare Checklist for Psychopathy that has gained wider and wider acceptance as time has gone on. Your life has been touched by a psychopath/sociopath. The significance of that influence likely determines how interested you are in the subject. If your interest is high you must read this book as a seminal work on the subject. If your interest is somewhat lower, I would recommend the more recently written The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

41 of 43 people found this review helpful

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  • Cathi
  • 2011-11-28

Interesting and disturbing at once

The book is an astounding portrait of the psychopath, with lengthy descriptions of how they act, how they think, and how they see the world. The author clearly knows what he is talking about and the narrator is fluent with excellent diction and tone.
The multiple examples are engaging and easy to relate to.
I did find it a little repetitive towards the end.
My main dissatisfaction, though, stems from the book's inconclusiveness. The author paints this very detailed picture of this major problem but then offers little practical advice on how to deal with it both as individuals or as a society. I would have liked more concrete advice.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • J. Johnston
  • 2012-07-25

The Definitive Work on Psychopathy

Hare created this genre of non-fiction and remains the master all others attempt to imitate. I originally purchased this book in paperback form many years ago, read it 2-3 times, and then lent it to a friend who never returned it. It was worthwhile enough for me to buy the audiobook format.

Hare was responsible for developing the gold standard in the identification of psychopathic personalities. This is a standard currently in-use across the criminal justice system worldwide. The author clearly distinguishes the characteristics of psychopathy, and discusses at length the way these individuals move amongst us in society. This book is objective, non-sensationalized, and presented in a to-the-point and interesting way that is both satisfying and enlightening for the layman. Advice for dealing with potential psychopaths at both the societal/institutional and personal levels are also informatively presented. This isn't your typical black-art psych book - Hare backs his conclusions up with solid research and decades of inventorying verifiable psychopaths from the nation's prison system.

Read it and see if you can pick out the psychopaths in your life.

26 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • Randall D. Raymond
  • 2012-02-16

Fascinating book on a fascinating subject

I have long been fascinated with the subject of psychopathy, and this book covers the subject well. Dr. Hare obviously knows his subject well, and is able to communicate his knowledge to a lay audience.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Debbie
  • 2013-03-18

Excellent Research, Sociopath Next Door Better

While Dr. Hare is the authority on psychopaths, and I gained a full understanding of what a psychopath is from his book, I found that his research dealt much more with the criminal element. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout was more helpful to me, as it covers more of the day to day people we are in contact with every day . . . the ones we work with and for, go to school with and unfortunately have personal relationships with. I can now spot one a mile away. Wish I knew then what I know now . . .

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • LL Terry
  • 2012-04-23

Interesting, but Self Absorbed

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Yes, but you only need to read/listen to half of it. It's very repetitive.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The whole concept is interesting and he does get much credit for his "psychopath" test. No question there. But nothing really new after that.

Any additional comments?

I read the Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout first. Her book was newer (2007 compared to 1999) and referred to this one so I decided to give it a try. This book was a bit too self-congratulatory for me and repetitive without giving insight or answering basic questions. It's more a series of the author's experiences and how revolutionary he was in drafting the psychopath test. Stout's book went more into possible causes, contrasting and comparing which gave one things to think about. Maybe it was unfair to compare Hare's book to Stout, but I really got tired of him halfway through and I find this subject matter riveting. Based on the first book, I would have second thoughts about listening/reading a second book of his.

20 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda
  • 2012-10-01

A glimpse into the mind of a psychopath

Amazing that some people really have no regard for others. I used to believe that people had a natural caring for others, especially their own family members and spouse. Now I realize some people lack the ability to have feelings of caring. I seem to have had the misfortune of having a parent and a husband who fit the description. I always wondered if they were just plain mean, or if they were mentally ill. This book does an excellent job of describing what actually happens in the mind of a psychopath. I'm happy that I got this book. I have a better understanding of this problem than I ever had before, and I no longer have to wonder what I did wrong. By the way, I'm now happily married to a great guy who treats me well and is not a psychopath.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 2014-04-24

Martha Stout's book is better

This was not a very good book. Having listened to several audiobooks about psychopaths, notably Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door and Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, I think the lesson learned here is that journalists are better writers than academics.

Criminal psychologist Robert Hare is famous for having devised the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is referenced several times by Stout and Ronson. However, in this book he spends entirely too much time talking about how much research he's done and how clever he is to have formulated this unique way of studying and understanding psychopaths, yet the actual evidence he cites is largely anecdotal and even speculative at times. I started to doubt the doc's credibility about the third time he used fictional characters (e.g., Hannibal Lecter, Buffalo Bill) to make a point.

He does this throughout Without Conscience: he will describe psychopathic behavior, and then use a sensationalist example, often from a movie! He talks about psychopaths as if they are monsters who are practically a separate species. Granted, many psychopaths, even those who aren't murderers, are monsters. But it hardly seems useful or truly serving the cause of truthful inquiry to dwell on how horrible psychopaths are, using serial killers as the primary examples, even though Hare himself admits that serial killers are an extreme minority of psychopaths, rather than addressing more interesting and informative questions like how to identify psychopaths and what to do about them.

Martha Stout and Jon Ronson cover much the same ground, and while of course they talk about the most spectacular, cruel, and flamboyant psychopaths as well — serial killers, bigamists, con-men, etc. — they do both more entertainingly and with a little more sense of balance, addressing the fact that most psychopaths, while horrible people to deal with, live fairly ordinary lives (often miserable ones), doing as much damage to themselves as others. Whereas Hare seems to want everyone to hire a professional like himself and apply the Hare Psychopathy Checklist whenever you suspect you're dealing with a psychopath, which could be anyone who exhibits any psychopathic behaviors.

Here is where Hare's book also seems to flounder: he uses many examples of psychopathic behavior, and conflates them with psychopaths. Rapists, for example, are "often" psychopaths, he says. Yet while noting that not all rapists are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are rapists, Hare then goes on to describe rape as a crime that is typical of a psychopathic mindset, the extreme lack of empathy for others, the lack of impulse control, etc. Okay, and? What does this actually tell us about the relationship between rape and psychopathy?

He makes vague assertions about how various crimes, from stock market manipulation to government fraud and abuse to violent crime, "may" be the result of psychopaths, and that this is evident of the massive social and economic damage psychopaths do. Well, yes, I'm sure a lot of Wall Street predators and street-level grifters and conniving, bad people everywhere in-between are psychopaths, but not all of them, so just how many are and what is the measurable contribution of psychopaths to our social ills? It's impossible to say, but Hare just hints that psychopaths are becoming more common, as evidenced by how much "worse" society is getting - again, with no evidence.

The few chapters that were interesting and informative were those that talked about what makes a psychopath's brain different — they seem to often have linguistic mannerisms like misusing words or inventing neologisms, and they also seem to often have poor impulse control, an inability to control themselves even when they may be very smart and quite capable of foreseeing the consequences of their actions. This would also explain why psychopaths tend to get caught out eventually, whether they are serial killers or just that lying manipulator in your office who's always telling stories behind people's back.

Hare does not offer much hope for the treatment of psychopaths, since he points out the condition seems to start in childhood, if not at birth, and no form of behavioral therapy actually changes them: at best, you might convince a psychopath to "play by the rules" so long as they are convinced it's in their best interests.

Overall, while there were some interesting bits and a very comprehensive description of psychopathy, Without Conscience appeared to me to be scientifically weak, too much a vehicle for Robert Hare to promote himself and his work, and not as good as other books that have covered the same subject.

25 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Angie
  • 2012-06-04

Well researched

This is the book that will reveal the dark side of people. A must read to survive the society the we live in.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful