The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jon Ronson, like Louis Theroux, is someone whose career is built on the examination of those who seem other, who seem oddly separate from our daily experience. The Psychopath Test, however, focuses on something we’re probably all familiar with, perhaps unwittingly: the psychopath. Because in every hundred people, one is a psychopath.
The writing works because it’s pretty breezy. We open with Ronson’s own feelings of panic and anxiety, coupled with a mystery: a curious book that’s been sent to various academics. He tries to figure who sent it, and why, and begins his journey into the world of psychopathy.
Throughout, the explorations are driven by a personal curiosity. It’s a fairly organic progression: stuff unfolds without a great degree of forethought, always with a tailing thought: am I a psychopath?
(Don’t worry: if you’re concerned about being a psychopath, it’s more than likely you aren’t one.)
There are, of course, plenty of interesting interviews through the book. There’s the Scientologists who hate psychiatry, and who are on the side of a man locked in Broadmoor who claims to not be a psychopath but merely a piss-taker. There’s the former death squad leader. There’s “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, the slash-and-burn parachute-in CEO who’s hated by his family. There’s the editor of the third edition of the DSM. There’s the guy who thinks he’s the Messiah. And there’s Robert Hare, the guy who authored the definitive diagnostic checklist used to skewer psychopathy in individuals.
Each of these interviews is revealing. There’s plenty of information for the layman, though I imagine professionals in the area would find it a bit thin. We’re taken through what, outwardly, makes a psychopath, and examine the way psychopaths can insert themselves into positions of power – indeed, a lot of the writing reflects concern about how much of business and government are in the hands of psychopaths – though there’s not a great AHA moment by the end of the book. It sort of just fizzles.
Don’t get me wrong: the book is enjoyable. But I feel there could’ve been a more investigative approach taken which would’ve resulted in something with a bit more staying power.