“The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry,” by Jon Ronson

psychopath test

In his book “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry,” journalist Jon Ronson is hired to try and unravel a mysterious game that’s being played out by world’s finest academic minds.

It involves an anonymous manuscript, riddles and pictures.

Accepting the challenge, he embarks on a journey that takes him not only half way around the world, but as a by-product, of his investigations, into the mysterious world of madness.

During his two-year journey, Ronson finds himself becoming fascinated by the topic of mental illness in general, and, almost by accident, psychopathy in particular.

So he sets out to explore the topic in all of its fine detail via interviews with those who have been either assessed or suspected of being psychopaths, as well as several influential psychologists, psychiatrists and even one Scientologist.

It is here that he first begins to learn all about Hare’s famous psychopath checklist; and instantly begins checking off his own personality traits against said list; just to be sure he’s not one of them.

As he begins interviewing people, Ronson takes his readers on an often humorous and at times confronting ride that involves, not only meeting the man who invented the checklist used to diagnose psychopaths, but also engaging in the rather bizarre, though none the less true life story of a man who faked his own mental illness rather than face jail time, simply because he thought his stay would be both shorter and more comfortable in a mental hospital rather than in a jail.

That is until the day he wakes up and realizes that he’s actually terrified of the murders and child molesters that surround him.

Yet despite his best efforts to prove his sanity, he soon finds himself being diagnosed with additional forms of mental illness, as each and every attempt he makes at normality simply ends up a complete and utter disaster.

Ronson begins to questions whether or not this young man may indeed be sane or simply so mired down within his psychopathy that he only believes himself to be sane?

It is whilst having such thoughts that he unexpectedly and quite disturbingly, stumbles across the notion that, in order to operate efficiently, successful societies may just require what’s known as the ‘right amount’ of ruthlessness and insanity to keep them ticking over nicely.

A disturbing thought to say the least.

Yet the more Ronson looks into and interviews people such as Al Dunlap, a ruthless business man who indeed seems to meet all of the criteria on Hare’s psychopath checklist, the more he becomes convinced the concept may be true and that the term psychopath may not just apply to stalkers, rapists and murders but also to cut throat CEO’s.

With each new discovery that he makes, Ronson’s views on psychopaths and mental illness both develop and change until the point in which they become increasingly ambiguous as he realizes that all that really exists between being diagnosed as mentally ill, as opposed to simply being a human being with a few too many quirks, is an extremely thin and increasingly elastic borderline.

As a result he begins to pay attention to the ways in which both the psychiatric profession and the media treat those who are considered mad, or mentally challenged in some way.

“The Psychopath Test” is a simultaneously humorous yet extremely challenging work of nonfiction.

On the one hand, whilst Ronson is poking fun at his own quirks, he is also encouraging his readers to ask important questions not only about themselves, but about their very societies and the way the world is run.

Ronson produces a very readable and an extremely interesting exploration of a topic that most people would traditionally find too scary to contemplate let alone find humor in.

His style is humorous and engaging, his steps light and breezy as he walks that fine line between entertaining his readers without trivializing either the plights of those he’s writing about or dismissing the often disturbing things he talks about.

I found this book to be both a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.


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