Home » “Mindhunter” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – Plunge into the Psychological Abyss

“Mindhunter” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – Plunge into the Psychological Abyss

“Mindhunter” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker (Header image)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Short Summary

John E. Douglas is perhaps one of the more important figures in modern criminal psychology, being not only one of the first profilers, but more importantly, one of the only ones willing and able to consistently share his knowledge with the public. He has published many books alongside Mark Olshaker, and in Mindhunter, Douglas delves into some of the more surprising and shocking cases throughout his storied twenty-five-year career.

John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker Dredge up the Nightmares

The topic of serial killers has never failed to retain peoples’ attention, to the point where the case of Jack the Ripper is still being researched and debated to this very day. As the knowledge of there being more of them than anyone initially thought possible crept into the collective consciousness, counter-measures had to be developed, and in Mindhunter, written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, we learn in great depth about one such measure.

Though I’d usually skip out on dedicating a whole paragraph to introducing the author of the book I’m reviewing, I feel like in this case it’s absolutely necessary. John E. Douglas isn’t just your regular six-pack Joe; he happens to be one of the first psychological profilers in America’s history. He is one of the pioneers of this profession, and needless to say, few can claim to have a greater wealth of experience than him.

So what exactly is Mindhunter all about? Though the two authors have previously written various books detailing specific cases, one can think of this book as more of an anthology, drawing one some of the more fascinating cases Douglas was tasked with solving, while offering a window into the inner workings of the Investigative Support Unit.

With over twenty-five years of cases and stories to draw upon, Douglas has interviewed and profoundly studied some of the most notorious and terrifying serial killers of this century, including Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Charles Manson, Dennis Rader (the BTK Killer), and the list goes on and on. Though perhaps he doesn’t hold all the answers, he has more to offer on their behaviour than anyone else, that much is a guarantee.

The book is essentially dedicated to revisiting those high-profile cases in great detail, examining the crime scenes, victims, witnesses, and of course, the perpetrators. He attempts to compose profiles, to enter their minds as profoundly as he can, to understand their habits, the motivations behind their actions, and how those can be used to predict their next moves.

The three most common motives of serial rapists and murderers turn out to be domination, manipulation, and control.

– “Mindhunter” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

A Man of Principle Behind Mindhunter

Even before looking at the actual content of the book, I think it’s important to address the fact that, in a certain way, this work of writing certainly isn’t “tailored to modern audiences”, a term I’m starting to see a little too often these days. This is simply due to the fact that neither John E. Douglas nor Mark Olshaker have a problem with taking sides in arguments.

They are both Republicans, and often argue in favour of values which you might be against, but I would urge you not to let this put you off the book. For starters, they often explore all sides of any argument (such as death penalty or gun control), but rather than tiptoeing the line like so many modern authors would be tempted to, they make their stances known and concrete.

If you’re willing to enter Mindhunter looking at it as an opportunity to learn about psychological profiling and nothing more, then the various opinions presented by the author start to veer into the realm of characterization. Through his thoughts and meditations on complex issues we ultimately get to learn quite a bit about the man who chose to spend his life diving into the darkest abyss imaginable, that of human terror.

Even though the writing style in this book leaves a little to be desired, it is nevertheless sufficient to often get a feeling for how exactly Douglas interprets a situation, a crime scene, or a person’s decisions. Yes, he is a little judgmental, but considering his profession led him to hunting the most despicable of human beings for almost three decades, I think it’s quite warranted.

One thing we come to know quite well is just how much of a toll this type of work took on Douglas‘ personal life, how it ravaged his own psychological state and pushed him to the brink of despair, a hair away from death by exhaustion. The sacrifices he made were great (and in the grandiose, rather than the “fun” sense), and thankfully they ended up yielding an irreplaceable treasure trove of information which, one day, might save lives.

Probably the most crucial single factor in the development of a serial rapist or killer is the role of fantasy.

– “Mindhunter” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

As I’ve mentioned it before, Mindhunter ought to be likened to an anthology more than anything else, taking us on expeditions through the various cases which marked the author’s life. This really isn’t for the faint of heart, as we get to meet some of the vilest beings imaginable, and are walked through their horrific crimes which often involve elements such as infanticide, torture, and a whole lot of madness.

In the process of walking us through these crimes, John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker also take the time to trace the history of the psychological profiling profession. Douglas recounts how he incessantly struggled at first, how he fought a seemingly impossible battle for legitimacy in a world which was all too intent on sticking with the old ways, despite them being clearly dysfunctional.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the criminals themselves and their crimes, but rest assured that by the end of the book, we come to know them better than we know ourselves. Douglas shows his awe-inspiring talent for reading people, exposing the inner workings of their minds in such clear and logical fashion, one can’t help but accept all the conclusions he comes to.

Herein lies perhaps the factor which I enjoyed the less about this read: how Douglas reached his conclusions. From the reader’s perspective, it always seems like he leaps to them, and though he is obviously correct, I sometimes had trouble seeing the path which led him to the correct solution. I think it’s mostly due to the fact he wasn’t able to translate the inner workings of his instincts to paper, and over all, it didn’t prevent me from enjoying everything else the book had to offer.

It remains true, that even with all of our fancy modern technology, catching a serial killer involves luck more than anything else. A random witness or a little slip in concentration land them in the authorities’ hands much more often than actual investigative work, but perhaps it doesn’t always have to be so. John E. Douglas tried his best to provide a comprehensive framework for possibly identifying the monsters before they even hatch, and many of the breakthroughs he pioneered in his day are common knowledge now. Who knows? Perhaps one day, we will be able to stop them before they strike, and Douglas will be remembered as taking the first step on this perilous journey.

448Gallery BooksOct. 24 2017978-1501191961

The Final Verdict

Mindhunter by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker is an essential addition to any true crime collection, especially for those of you who are interested in criminal profiling. Combining details about the FBI’s history with a simple-yet-impactful narrative about some of the more sordid cases he was involved in, Douglas does his best to explore the most twisted and obscured minds he ever came across.

If you’re in the market for a true crime book focusing on numerous cases with a heavy penchant for psychological analysis, then you’ll definitely want to get your hands on this book as soon as possible.

John E. Douglas (Author)

John E. Douglas

John Edward Douglas is a retired American special agent and unit chief in the FBI, who holds the distinction o being one of the first criminal profilers in the country’s history. He has co-written numerous books on criminal psychology and true crime, such as Mindhunter and The Cases That Haunt Us, the vast majority of them alongside Mark Olshaker.
Mark Olshaker (Author)

Mark Olshaker

Mark Olshaker is an American author from Washington D.C., best-known for his frequent collaborations with John E. Douglas. Together, they penned quite a few prominent books, with the best-known ones arguably being Mindhunter, Inside the Mind of BTK, The Killer’s Shadow and When a Killer Calls.
David Ben Efraim (Page Image)

David Ben Efraim (Reviewer)

David Ben Efraim is a book reviewer living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and co-owner of Bookwormex, as well as the Quick Book Reviews blog, along with Yakov Ben Efraim. With a love for literature reaching across all genres (except romance), he has embarked on the quest to share its wonders with the world by helping people find their way to books which truly speak to them, whether they be modern sensations or relics from a bygone era.

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