Reviewed by Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)
Dr. Barbara Oakley is the author of Evil Genes—Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Oakley’s resume reads like something out of a spy novel: She worked as a translator on Russian fishing trawlers during the Cold War, went from a private to an officer in the military, met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole, and is now a professor of bio-engineering.
About this book, Gavin DeBecker writes, “Whatever you might believe about the role of genetics versus environment, Evil Genes will take you somewhere you haven’t been. Barbara Oakley brilliantly reveals the falseness of one of the ego’s little lies: That all our behavior is decided by us.”
Psychology Today writes “The author is successful at intertwining science with her family’s history … Oakley’s explanations are lucid, making Evil Genes and easy read even for those who need a refresher course on chromosomes, seratonin, and the amygdalae … From infamous dictators to conniving sisters, Machiavellians come in many shapes and sizes. Now we have some insight into what makes them tick.”
Like the previous book of Dr. Oakley’s that I reviewed, Cold-Blooded Kindness, this book was so interesting that I could hardly put it down, and I wore out another yellow highlighter marking especially interesting passages I wanted to review again.
Dr. Oakley’s sister, Carolyn, actually did steal her mother’s boyfriend, and was highly Machiavellian, probably psychopathic. Dr. Oakley personally and professionally “gets it” about toxic people. She focuses her book on the genetics plus the environments that make people with personality disorders “successful” or not so “successful,” by looking at various people, including her sister, Carolyn, as well as Mao, Stalin, the CEO of Enron, and Hitler. She looks at how their genetic tendencies and family histories folded together with environments that placed them at a juncture where they could blossom into the abusers on either a personal scale or a worldwide scale.
She looks at the way in which genes, and their variations, affect not only how we look, but how we react and think, how self-serving we are, or how altruistic we may be. She takes the very subjects that are discussed daily here at LoveFraud and puts them into scientific jargon, but in such a way that even if you had trouble in Mrs. Smith’s seventh-grade science class, you can still understand what she is talking about.
Dr. Oakley doesn’t just focus on the psychopaths, but on the personality disorders in general and the fact that “borderline,” “narcissistic,” “histrionic” and “antisocial” personality disorders overlap in such a way that they are more likely to be different points on a continuum rather than separate entities. She refers to the “total” personality disordered as the “successfully sinister” or “Machiavellian.” About trying to tell someone who has not been targeted by one, she says it is like:
trying to explain color to a blind person … People simply aren’t generally raised and educated to understand the small percentages of the population—some of whom are outwardly very successful—are quite capable of masking deeply disturbed personalities. Sometimes, sadly, the devastating reality of these “unfixable” personalities becomes clear only after marriage and children. (As relationship expert Russell Friedman once quipped: “You can’t love someone into mental health.”)
“I can’t believe there might be some kind of scientific explanation for this,” the have-dealt-withs tell me time after time, “I never even talk about it because no one would believe me.” Without knowledge of recent studies, people have little way of figuring out that their seemingly isolated experience was far more common than they’d realized.
There are few books that I have ever found as interesting as I have Dr. Barbara Oakley’s two books, and I am anxiously awaiting her latest book which is due to be published in August. Don’t let her “subtitle” to Evil Genes of “Why Rome fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend” put you off or fool you. This is well researched and documented information about the “successfully sinister.” The book adds to the growing knowledge available to the public (not just the professionals) about the “psychopaths among us,” that will hopefully help educate the general public about how to spot toxic personalities and realize that they truly are “unfixable.
Like Gavin DeBecker, who had a mother who was personality disordered, Dr. Oakley had a sister who was personality disordered. She, like DeBecker, not only “gets it,” but knows how to present it so that others can “get it” from her writings. I highly recommend this work.
Evil Genes—Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriendis available on Amazon.com.