Book Report: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
General Synposis (taken from the back cover of the book):
They say one out of every hundred people is a psychopath. You probably passed one on the street today. These are people who have no empathy, who are manipulative, deceitful, charming, seductive, and delusional. The Psychopath Test is the New York Times bestselling exploration of their world and the madness industry.
When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world’s top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he’s sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath—a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and with a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fueled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.
Along the way, Ronson discovers that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their most insane edges. The Psychopath Test is a fascinating adventure through the minds of madness.
There have only been two times that I’ve missed my subway stopped because I was so engrossed in a book. Once was last week, when I started reading The Psychopath Test and the second time was this morning, when I purposely missed my stop so that I could read the last ten pages of it.
I was familiar with Ronson’s other work, most famously The Men Who Stare At Goats, however, I never felt a pull to his work until I watched his 2012 Ted Talk titled “Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test.” (Ted has a way of doing that…). I’m a junkie for obscure, wacky psychology research (I come from a long line of psychologists, therapists and healers. I’ve been surrounded by conversations of obscure psychology since I was a child. And of course, the themes of Shattered Illusions play heavily on those of modern psychology). When I watched the talk, I was hooked. I watched it about twelve times before buying the book, solely because I was worried that the brilliance of the talk would be ruined by a mediocre book (yes, I have high expectations of books). I was not disappointed.
I don’t remember the last time I laughed as hard, cringed as much, or literally ducked my head under the covers from fright.
What I loved about this book was how I could feel Ronson’s raw, emotional reactions to the various psychopaths mentioned throughout the book. His genuine human fault of falling for the psychopath test, self diagnosing himself using the DSM manual and experiencing extreme anxiety while dealing with this topic was something I found refreshing and relate able. In an odd way, one could say that Ronson brought a ‘humane’ aspect to the world of psychopaths. Not to say that I find myself understanding and relating to the psychopathic brain…or am I?
The trick that made this book a page turner was Ronson’s ability to make the reader think that he had said everything there was to say about a psychopath, and then he’d throw another idea in from left field. Obviously, there are different types of psychopaths, however, until I read this book, I assumed that there was one type, the classic ‘movie’ psychopaths with masks, chain saws and killer jigsaw puzzles. Psychopaths come in all shapes and sizes. Be afraid, be very afraid….
“He had a big, kind, cryptic smile on his face and he was wringing this hands like a man possessed. I frequently wrung my hands in such a same way. I couldn’t help thinking that in terms of getting much too obsessed about stupid things that didn’t matter, Petter and I were probably two peas in a pod.”
“I was much crazier than I thought. Or maybe it was a bad idea to read the DSM-IV when you’re not a trained professional. Or maybe the American Psychiatric Association had a crazy desire to label all life a mental disorder.”
“I wondered if it ever crossed Adam’s and Bob’s minds that the logical solution to the psychopath problem would be to lock them up before they’d actually done anything wrong-even if proposing such a measure would make them the villains from an Orwell novel, which isn’t something anyone imagines they’ll be when setting out their career path.”
If you’re looking for a fascinating tale of the human condition, do yourself a favor and read this book. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you scream…and it’ll probably make you self diagnose yourself as a psychopath.
You can find more information about Jon Ronson by visiting his website.
Next week’s Read: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson