Book Review: Making a Psychopath by Dr. Mark Freestone

A fascinating glimpse into the world of criminal psychopathy.

Mark Freestone, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London. He has worked in prisons and forensic mental health services for over 15 years as a researcher and clinician, including in the High Secure Category A prison estate, which houses some of the UK’s most notorious and high-risk criminals. He has also worked at Rampton and Broadmoor Special Hospitals – institutions which have housed the likes of the Yorkshire ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Moors Murderer Ian Brady, Levi Bellfield, and Charles Bronson – as part of the Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) Programme. He is a consultant to BBC America’s Killing Eve, an editor of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, and currently an advisor to NHS England on services for men and women with a diagnosis of severe personality disorder. He has published several academic articles on personality disorder, psychopathy, and violence risk, but Making a Psychopath is his first book.

Dr. Freestone dives into the cases of seven clinically diagnosed psychopaths, examining their childhoods, criminal histories, and institutional time in which he was able to conduct his observations and interviews with them. Each case is different, ranging from violent offenses to parasitic lifestyles, and has an adverse effect on their surroundings and individual relationships. In conducting his interviews and research, he raises questions about the effectiveness of current diagnostic techniques, the stigma associated with the diagnosis, and examples of positive rehabilitation strategies currently in use today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dr. Freestone brings a fresh voice to a tired topic and raises thought-provoking questions surrounding society’s current impression of psychopathy resulting from the media’s often myopic portrayal when reporting in the news, documentaries, and Hollywood movies. He highlights the fact that, of all the violent offenders currently serving prison time, only a small percentage of those are in fact diagnosed as psychopaths. Further adding controversy to the topic when discussing the possibility of ‘successful psychopaths’ and the roles they play in society, from a purely clinical perspective. Understanding that the literature surrounding the diagnosis is forever evolving is important to note, and keeping up to date with fresh insights is important for better understanding those living with the disorder. Dr. Freestone’s personal experiences when dealing with such individuals are both captivating and equally terrifying as he describes these personality types and what they’re capable of while maintaining respect and avoiding dehumanization of the subject matter. I found one story in particular very curious in which he visits the private home of a diagnosed psychopath and convicted violent offender (since released), to conduct his interview for the book, Making a Psychopath, over tea and cake. After learning of this man’s upbringing and criminal history, it was unnerving to picture them sitting together so casually in a peaceful setting. Knowing what this man’s hands have done in the past as he calmly cuts the coffee cake and pours the milk made me extremely anxious for the safety of Dr. Freestone.

The fact that psychopaths range from extremely violent to highly successful members of society is a topic that hasn’t been fully explored in today’s current body of literature. Probably because, as another clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani, stated in her podcast, “psychopaths wouldn’t go to therapy unless they were court ordered to,” or in this case if they were incarcerated for their crimes. Psychopaths are labeled by the media as nothing more than cold-blooded killers who should be locked up or executed for their crimes. Dr. Freestone argues we should be spending more time studying them instead of punishing them for having been failed by their families and or society. Given that they are genetically predisposed to developing the disorder, further compounded by their environment, he suggestsusing the Van der Hoeven Kliniek as a positive examplethat governments and possibly even private entities should dedicate more money toward helping rehabilitate those people into rejoining society? Aren’t we all reduced to labels in some form? Given the heinous crimes committed by such individuals, it’s understandable why society is more inclined to punish rather than persevere. In a world where we’re seeing an increase in anti-social behavior, this book raises awareness regarding the need for better rehabilitation services and a much broader understanding of these types of complex personality disorders in general.


I recommend to readers who are curious about abnormal psychology, the possible reasoning behind criminal pathology, and exploring a fuller understanding of the term ‘psychopath’ by acknowledging its broad range of complexities on a case by case basis.


Dr. Mark Freestone has worked on some of the most interesting, infamous and disturbing cases of psychopathology in recent years. His expertise has led to a consultant role on several TV series, helping them accurately portray their fictional villains. Now, he shares his phenomenal insight into the minds of some of the world’s most violent real-life criminals.

Angela “the Remorseless”, a rare female psychopath, casually confessed to murder on national television without a hint of regret. Danny “the Borderline” switched from grandiosity to rage to despair within minutes and killed his defenseless friend without explanation. Tony “the Conman” preferred charm, intimidation and sexual abuse over physical violence and once tried to dupe someone into buying the Eiffel Tower. Jason “the Liar” had a fantasy life that led to vicious murders around Europe and preyed on those who see the good in people. Case by fascinating case, get to know seven of the most dangerous minds that Dr. Freestone has encountered over the last 15 years. These are up-close accounts of some of the most psychopathic criminals, and of what can happen if you fall victim to their supreme powers of manipulation.

Exploring the many factors that make a psychopath, the complexities and contradictions of their emotions and behavior, as well as an examination of how the lives of psychopaths develop inside and outside the institutions that are supposed to contain them, Making a Psychopath opens up a window into the world of those who operate in a void of human emotion—and what can be done to control them.

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