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The Devil You Know

Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion



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About The Book

In this “unmissable book” (The Guardian), 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 of experience in providing therapy to people in prisons and secure hospitals 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 firsthand 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. “A welcome contribution to the literature of crime and rehabilitation” (Kirkus Reviews).

About The Authors

© Philip Vaontrive

Dr. Gwen Adshead is one of the UK’s leading forensic psychiatrists and psychotherapists. She has spent thirty years working in Broadmoor, England’s largest secure psychiatric hospital, with groups and individual patients convicted of serious violent offences, as well as with people in prisons and in the community. Gwen has a Master’s degree in medical law and ethics and has published several academic books and over one hundred papers and commissioned articles on forensic psychotherapy, moral reasoning and ethics, and attachment theory. She is a founder member of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy and has been a visiting professor at Yale University and Gresham College in the UK.

© Patrick Douëtil

Eileen Horne is an American author and dramatist currently based in California, with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. Following a long career in the UK as an independent TV drama producer, over the last decade, she has written an eclectic mix of historical nonfiction, journalism, Italian translation, as well as several original dramas and literary adaptations—including contributing to a BBC radio drama series about an entirely fictional female forensic psychiatrist.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 20, 2021)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982134792

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Raves and Reviews

"Adshead’s warm intelligence, curiosity and nuanced understanding of her work inspire trust in what turns out to be an unmissable book... This insightful, compassionate and fascinating book will help us to move away from our blindness and misconceptions and shine a light on the stories beyond the headlines – stories that desperately need to be heard."The Guardian

"One cannot help but be impressed by [Adshead's] ability to read the patient, to know when to probe further and when to back off, and to know how to lead the patient to discuss the horrific thing they’ve done, which they’ve often never spoken of to anyone. [The Devil You Know] is Adshead’s attempt to create a breakthrough with readers, who tend to view criminals as 'monsters' completely different from themselves." The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

"Heartfelt and nuanced... For those interested in the inner workings of the criminal mind, this is must reading." Publisher's Weekly

“Over a working life of more than 30 years, Adshead has served patients at Broadmoor, a place with 'a history of housing some of the UK’s most notorious violent criminals.' Adshead’s interest is not lurid, though there are lurid episodes, and her overarching goal is to secure more funding for better treatment. A welcome contribution to the literature of crime and rehabilitation."Kirkus

"A fascinating, erudite, and beautifully written deep dive into the nature of evil. The Devil You Know makes the case for radical empathy and reminds us that all human beings are capable of darkness, and of light."
—Christie Watson, author of The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story

"An extraordinary book. Shocking, sad and absolutely fascinating.”
—Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong

"This is a myth buster of a book—crammed with compelling, constructive, candid and compassionate insights into the criminal mind."
—Val McDermid, author of Still Life

"Hope is a verb, infusing every chapter in this remarkable account of a therapist working with violent offenders; full of wisdom and insight, warmth and mercy, this book offers new ways of seeing our common humanity."
—Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, Advocate for abolition of the death penalty and author of Dead Man Walking

"On killing and other crimes—a forensic, gripping, extraordinary and ultimately enlightening insider’s account of how and why it happens." —Philippe Sands, author of The Ratline: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive

"This new text, The Devil you Know, is a masterful achievement. Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne build on an established literature that contemplates the use of narrative, compassion, empathy, and dignity in forensic psychiatry. They formulate a terrain of beneficence that must undergird caring for individuals who have committed serious criminal offences. These offenders are human beings, in possession of an inviolable human dignity. Their caregivers have an obligation toward them that is rooted in a vocational commitment bordering on the spiritual. All of this is presented in a prose that is engaging and lively. These scholars have advanced the field substantially with their brilliant observations and insights. The text is refreshingly creative." —Ezra E. H. Griffith, MD, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and African-American Studies, Yale University

"This book is both a gift and an invitation to transform the judging mind; may it touch many."—Father Richard Rohr OFM , Author, educator, and Founder of the Centre for Action and Contemplation

"This timely book puts a human face on people who are stigmatized and vilified by society, and whose experience of trauma and pain is not always recognized." Dr. Linda A. Teplin, Director of the Health Disparities and Public Policy Program, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University

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