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.
When I first added this book to my reading list, I thought it was fictional. I know, I know. Silly me. Upon finding it at the library last week, I immediately checked it out and dove right in. And then I realized it was non-fiction and I wasn't reading a mystery novel but a collection of interviews, news clippings, and first hand experience with psychopaths, which sounds more like a slur the more I hear it.
Jon Ronson begins with Being Or Nothingness, a mysteriously packaged book delivered to top scientists/thinkers around the world. And apparently, you can now purchase the book that started it all on Amazon for a steep forty dollars. After being hired to find the author and why it was sent to who it was sent to, Jon finds himself on the cusp of psychopath studies. Being a journalist, he obviously doesn't even think twice about stepping into this new and strange world. The journey he then goes on is an incredibly interesting tale of misuse of mental illness diagnosis, fear, and how the industry determines psychopathy. Though there are no main characters to connect to, readers will have a simple connection with Ronson, who shares his own anxieties and worries as the investigation continues.
Though the book does have a linear fashion, that doesn't stop it from being confusing at times. As a reader that has no prior in-depth study of psychology, just your basic 101 college course, it was sometimes hard to understand what the interviewees were actually saying. Also, it was a bit difficult to know where Ronson was headed overall. What was his actual goal in doing this? At the beginning I thought he was going to compare psychopathic characteristics to the personalities of company bigwigs and politicians to find out if psychopaths have a greater tendency to gain leadership positions. Then I thought Ronson would just focus on Tony and others who he met while on this journey. But neither was fully the focus, both were the semi-focus with the end being more of an actual conclusion based on evidence presented: the madness industry defines psychopathy by the psychopathic events. Mental insanity is defined by the insane moments. Instead of seeing the blurs, the crossed lines, and the overall picture -- the focus is on the bits and pieces, not the whole picture. The Psychopath Test is an interesting exploration of the psychology world that isn't afraid to peek inside a maximum security asylum to cover all avenues.
Rating: 2.5/5 Cups