Book Review – The Psychopath Test

Book by Jon Ronson; Review by Sophie Smart.

I think you should read The Psychopath Test.

It is a book by Jon Ronson. He’s a journalist. He wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats (which they turned into a film staring Ewan McGregor and George Clooney) and Them.

I thought this book was exceptionally brilliant. A friend lent it to me and I devoured it. I lent it out to other people. A few weeks ago, I started the third and final year of my psychology undergrad course. The first lecture in my forensic psychology module was on psychopathy and the first thing I did when I got home was to order a copy of this book for myself. I re-read it.

It is the sort book you read and after every revelationary chapter, paragraph, sentence even, you start to tell other people about it (I’m doing it now). Even if they don’t seem that interested you gabble on about the amazing, the shocking, the down right absurd! You say things like this:

“Scientologists are waging a war on psychiatry, systematically working to discredit those working in the profession!”

“There’s this woman called Rachel North and she was in the train carriage with one of the 7/7 bombers and there are people on the internet who don’t think she exists!! She went and met with them and they still don’t she exists!”

“In America you can buy bipolar drugs for your children without even getting them diagnosed!! And children have died because of this!”

“High up business people, including those working in the stock market, are likely to be psychopaths!”

You start talking in exclamation points.

Now here are some reasons why I think you should read this fascinating book, but of course, it is up to you, completely up to you:

1. Jon Ronson is funny. He has a dead-pan style of writing about the bizarre and, in his anxiety ridden mind, frightening situations he puts himself in.

2. He goes to interview a man diagnosed with psychopathy in Broadmoor. In Broadmoor. Journalists almost never get into Broadmoor (for their work that is; I’m not up on the statistics of convicted former journalists in Broadmoor).

3. He met Bob Hare (on multiple occasions). Hare’s Checklist is THE diagnostic tool for psychopathy. Hare is practically the founding father of this area of psychology. Ronson even learns to use the checklist.

“As I sat in the marquee my mind drifter to what I could do with my new powers. If I’m being honest it didn’t cross my mind at that point to become some kind of great crime fighter, an offender profiler or criminal psychologist, philanthropically dedicated to making society a safer place. Instead I made a mental list of all the people who had crossed me over the years and wondered which of them I might be able to expose as having psychopathic character traits.”

4. He meets the head of a Haitian death squad. A man who believes he is the Messiah come again. A TV producer who created her own formula for getting people who were “just the right amount of mad” to come on the type of show where families yell at each other in front of a studio audience (anyone else thinking Jeremy Kyle?). Whether you think of these people as mad or eccentric they are definitely interesting to read about.

5. He interviews Paul Britton, the profiler partly responsible for the incorrect arrest of Colin Stagg for the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992. A case anyone even remotely interested in criminology would be fascinated to read about.

I have listed a few of the topics Ronson talks about in The Psychopath Test. I haven’t time to tell you all about Kingsley Hall run by R. D. Laing or the Oak Ridge experiment with its raw naked LSD-fuelled psychotherapy sessions (Don’t believe me? Look it up, or better yet read The Psychopath Test), but here is one final plug (by the way I’m not being paid/blackmailed into selling this book to you, I just think it is really captivating):

Jon Ronson is a journalist. This means the book is full of interviews with people, what they said, how they said it and how they looked when they said it. When he describes experiments he does not tell you about the statistical analyses, nor does he talk in scientific jargon. This means that if you spend all day reading scientific journals, the ones that hurt your brain, then this is the perfect book for you.

Be sure to also check out the book’s accompanying TED talk.

Summary of The Psychopath Test by

“The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson’s exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world’s top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he’s sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.”


One response to “Book Review – The Psychopath Test

  1. Pingback: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry | Science Book a Day·

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