Book Review – The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this one up, in paperback, some time ago because I had enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats. It sat on the shelf for ages, a victim of the ease of the kindle. I started reading it as my at home book in late 2014 but only finished it earlier today.
I’m not sure what to make of Jon Ronson. He’s a sort of gonzo journalist, although perhaps a less extremist version. He seems to have a knack of making people tell him stuff that is ridiculous and that anyone sensible wouldn’t say in front of another person, let alone a journalist who was going to publish it. Perhaps it’s just my prejudice against journalists and media handling training coming out.
It’s car crash stuff. You can predict where it’s going and how. But yet it still makes you want to read it. It’s in the same vein as PJ O’Rourke and Louis Theroux but less obviously deliberately weird or funny. You know Ronson is showing you interesting characters and introducing the absurdities to you.
The basis for the book is the eponymous Psychpath Test developed by a psychiatrist to tell real psychopaths apart from the rest of the population. Ronson takes us through the signs that indicate psycopathy. He then meets some people that may be psychopaths and interviews them using the test to see whether or not they score highly enough to merit the psychopath label. These include a long term patient in Broadmoor, a former CEO and an alleged Haitian death squad leader living in the States.
The Psychopath Test is really about the absurdity of psychiatry and how normal behaviour can get you classified as mentally ill. We don’t really know, or at least can’t reliably tell the really bad people from the unusual ones. It’s really sad.