Title: The Psychopath Test
Review: Full disclosure, I have a degree in Psychology and worked for a number of years in the industry; so I have a good understanding of where the author is coming from. I mention this because if this book has a flaw is it leans to the generic while following an exploratory conversational style. So if you are looking for a more specific text book like explanatory book there are plenty out there. But if you want to hear a story from a extremely funny guy who went for a swim in the waters of the madness industry, you can’t do much better than this. So like I said, I spent quite a few years in the business so I already had the background to enjoy this book an all sorts of levels.
At one time I used to manage apartments for schizophrenics and it was great fun. I really enjoyed all the residents and they on the whole were delightful in their own way. But it was interesting to see people experience the patients for the first time; either they were totally at ease and were able to interact, or they were just plain freaked out. It was like they had watch a Hannibal Lecter marathon the previous day and if they were to relax for just a minute they patients would turn on them and be eating their kidneys with fava beans before they could shout for help. And the really interesting thing was you couldn’t predict how people would react. Their sex, age, size, education, and other traits did not lend themselves to prediction; they either were ok or they weren’t.
Well Ronson is a master story teller who goes on a walk about in the madness industry and specifically lands on psychopaths; people who do not process emotions like the rest of us. Now during this journey he meets some fascinating people and even more theories of why these people are this way. The whole time he is dealing with his own insecurities and paranoia. He faces the same questions you will when you read this; am I a psychopath, are my family and friends, my neighbors and co-workers, my boss, that guy on TV? And if you are not careful you will come away seeing psychopaths everywhere which will then feed your own fears and generally make you uneasy in your own life.
You will, like Ronson, need to take a step back and really think about what you have learned and how to integrate it into your daily life as a helpful tool. Some of you unfortunately will be like those who met my residents and will not be able to feel calm regardless of the situation. But most will be able to learn some great things from this book. But for those of you who are a little weary if you are a psychopath, watch a few of those soldiers surprise their family videos on youtube (or better yet, they surprise their pets) and if tear up a little you are okay.
The most important lesson from the book is the dismissing of the all or nothing attitude a lot of people have towards mental illness, especially psychopathy. The thing you soon learn about mental illness if you spend any time with it, it is not a black and white problem. First of all there are no normal people in the world, we all have problems somewhere in our mental capacities. All problems are on a spectrum and we all land somewhere on it. Now sometimes a little problem can be no problem and can actually be a little helpful. Like a little red wine can be beneficial to you, whereas two liters of vodka just to get out of bed is a problem. Take OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder); a little bit will make you a detail orientated individual that would be amazing for an engineer or the like. But if you can’t leave your house until you perform a lock check 43 times, or you have to wash your hands 100 times an hour you might need treatment.
Ronson meets several psychopaths and those who diagnose them and you get to see a picture where it is not all clear. Yes when the individual decides to murder people to see what it feels like they should be locked up. But when you begin to see psychopathic traits in CEO’s and other leaders you begin to see some value to being able to emotionally separate yourself from hard decisions. It is all a matter of degrees. It is like the Dexter series on Showtime (or the original Jeff Lindsay book series). Dexter clearly has a problem so his late step father expresses to him constructive ways to use his fascinations. You are who you are, but that doesn’t have to be an end.
So we all have problems, but how are we using them to make ourselves and the world we live in better? The Psychopath Test is both an informative and fun book; you will never look at those around you the same again.
Quick Review: 4.5 stars out of 5
Why I Read It: Funny psychology book
Where I Obtained the Book: My local library
Synopsis: 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.
Author Biography: Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary film maker. His books, Them: Adventures With Extremists and The Men Who Stare At Goats were international bestsellers. The Men Who Stare At Goats was adapted into a major motion picture starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.
He's written the popular "Human Zoo" and "Out of the Ordinary" columns for The Guardian, where he still contributes features. He currently writes and presents the twice Sony nominated BBC Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson On...
For Channel 4, Jon has made a number of films including the acclaimed five part series the Secret Rulers of the World and the multi-award-winning Tottenham Ayatollah. His most recent documentaries are Reverend Death (Channel 4), Citizen Kubrick (More4) and Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson Journey to the Other Side (Radio 4).
In the US, he is a contributor to Public Radio International's This American Life.