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The Devil You Know: Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion

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In eleven vivid narratives based on decades of providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals, an internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist demonstrates the remarkable human capacity for radical empathy, change, and redemption. What drives someone to commit an act of terrible violence? Drawing from her thirty years’ experience in workin In eleven vivid narratives based on decades of providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals, an internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist demonstrates the remarkable human capacity for radical empathy, change, and redemption. What drives someone to commit an act of terrible violence? Drawing from her thirty years’ experience in working with people who have committed serious offenses, Dr. Gwen Adshead provides fresh and surprising insights into violence and the mind. Through a collaboration with coauthor Eileen Horne, Dr. Adshead brings her extraordinary career to life in a series of unflinching portraits. Alongside doctor and patient, we discover what human cruelty, ranging from serial homicide to stalking, arson or sexual offending, means to perpetrators, experiencing first-hand how minds can change when the people some might label as “evil” are able to take responsibility for their life stories and get to know their own minds. With outcomes ranging from hope to despair, from denial to recovery, these men and women are revealed in all their complexity and shared humanity. In this era of mass incarceration, deep cuts in mental health care and extreme social schisms, this book offers a persuasive argument for compassion over condemnation. Moving, thought-provoking, and brilliantly told, The Devil You Know is a rare and timely book with the power to transform our ideas about cruelty and violence, and to radically expand the limits of empathy.


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In eleven vivid narratives based on decades of providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals, an internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist demonstrates the remarkable human capacity for radical empathy, change, and redemption. What drives someone to commit an act of terrible violence? Drawing from her thirty years’ experience in workin In eleven vivid narratives based on decades of providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals, an internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist demonstrates the remarkable human capacity for radical empathy, change, and redemption. What drives someone to commit an act of terrible violence? Drawing from her thirty years’ experience in working with people who have committed serious offenses, Dr. Gwen Adshead provides fresh and surprising insights into violence and the mind. Through a collaboration with coauthor Eileen Horne, Dr. Adshead brings her extraordinary career to life in a series of unflinching portraits. Alongside doctor and patient, we discover what human cruelty, ranging from serial homicide to stalking, arson or sexual offending, means to perpetrators, experiencing first-hand how minds can change when the people some might label as “evil” are able to take responsibility for their life stories and get to know their own minds. With outcomes ranging from hope to despair, from denial to recovery, these men and women are revealed in all their complexity and shared humanity. In this era of mass incarceration, deep cuts in mental health care and extreme social schisms, this book offers a persuasive argument for compassion over condemnation. Moving, thought-provoking, and brilliantly told, The Devil You Know is a rare and timely book with the power to transform our ideas about cruelty and violence, and to radically expand the limits of empathy.

34 review for The Devil You Know: Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karl Wardlaw

    This is interesting and an insight into a subject that I don't think has ever been discussed before. Dr Gwen Adshead has worked as a forensic psychiatrist in prisons and hospitals for a number of years including Broadmoor. This book explores the subject through work with a number of her patients. This book really excels in showing how small factors can build up over time and then just a small, seemingly insignificant thing can cause someone to commit unspeakable acts in some cases. This explains h This is interesting and an insight into a subject that I don't think has ever been discussed before. Dr Gwen Adshead has worked as a forensic psychiatrist in prisons and hospitals for a number of years including Broadmoor. This book explores the subject through work with a number of her patients. This book really excels in showing how small factors can build up over time and then just a small, seemingly insignificant thing can cause someone to commit unspeakable acts in some cases. This explains how the mind can build up barriers to protect. I would recommend that everyone buy this for a greater understanding of the human mind.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate Southey

    I loved this book! I’ve always been fascinated by criminal behaviour and how we as a society treat those convicted. Thankfully like me, Gwen Adshead believes in rehabilitation and respecting the humanity still held in even the most violent offenders. I can’t stand the media headlines of ‘Monster’ ‘Pedo!’ that seek to demonise these men and women and do nothing to help society except spreading fear and hate. And thank you, thank you, thank you Dr Adshead for pointing out what a paedophile actuall I loved this book! I’ve always been fascinated by criminal behaviour and how we as a society treat those convicted. Thankfully like me, Gwen Adshead believes in rehabilitation and respecting the humanity still held in even the most violent offenders. I can’t stand the media headlines of ‘Monster’ ‘Pedo!’ that seek to demonise these men and women and do nothing to help society except spreading fear and hate. And thank you, thank you, thank you Dr Adshead for pointing out what a paedophile actually is and what a child sex offender is. It’s a shame that the case studies had to be composites though I understand why. It would have been fascinating to know if any psychotherapy like this has helped with the mindset of any high profile offenders though. That said, having these composite anonymised case histories did mean that that author could add in snippets of her experiences in the USA and in therapy in other settings. For me the best part of the book was the beautifully woven in literary references! For someone like me who loves classic literature it was fabulous to read and each one was perfectly relevant and well chosen. I’m sure Dr Adshead has many more such stories and I for one would be happy to read book two!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brian Hamilton

    This book is a very interesting read, Dr Adshead covers a wide range of subjects from stalkers to sex offenders to murderers. What is a little off-putting is that the introduction states that the cases presented are culled from the doctors files and are not necessarily about one individual case. This makes one sit back when reading and asking if these cases are actually what the doctor encountered or an amalgam of various cases she has dealt with over the years. That slight dissonance aside, the This book is a very interesting read, Dr Adshead covers a wide range of subjects from stalkers to sex offenders to murderers. What is a little off-putting is that the introduction states that the cases presented are culled from the doctors files and are not necessarily about one individual case. This makes one sit back when reading and asking if these cases are actually what the doctor encountered or an amalgam of various cases she has dealt with over the years. That slight dissonance aside, the book is very readable, full of insight and is hugely interesting. I would recommend this book but am reluctant to give it five stars due to the slightly off-putting announcement in the intro section.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    As an avid crime reader (both fiction and non-fiction) a book written by an actual psychiatrist who works with offenders sounded intriguing. Dr Gwen Ashead's voice throughout the novel when describing the crimes and the treatment and help that she provides was non judgemental and open and made me think more deeply about not only the victims of crimes but of the perpetrators themselves. This book was gripping and eye opening and a truly fascinating read. As an avid crime reader (both fiction and non-fiction) a book written by an actual psychiatrist who works with offenders sounded intriguing. Dr Gwen Ashead's voice throughout the novel when describing the crimes and the treatment and help that she provides was non judgemental and open and made me think more deeply about not only the victims of crimes but of the perpetrators themselves. This book was gripping and eye opening and a truly fascinating read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Viki Cheung

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clare M

  7. 5 out of 5

    Clare

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eishar Kaur

  10. 5 out of 5

    M-L

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aksel

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jack Cooper

  15. 5 out of 5

    Claire Hood

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicci Cloke

  17. 4 out of 5

    Soph

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cjcornish00

  22. 5 out of 5

    Albertine67

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jensel

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clare Deborah

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amie's Book Reviews

  30. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  31. 5 out of 5

    Kate Williams

  32. 4 out of 5

    Jack Cooper

  33. 4 out of 5

    segosha

  34. 5 out of 5

    Alex Bradshaw

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