In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.
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.
In this engrossing exploration of psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat psychopathy, British journalist Ronson (whose The Men Who Stare at Goats was the basis for the 2009 movie starring George Clooney) reveals that psychopaths are more common than we'd like to think. Visiting Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, where some of Britain's worst criminal offenders are sent, Ronson discovers the difficulties of diagnosing the complex disorder when he meets one inmate who says he feigned psychopathy to get a lighter sentence, and instead has spent 12 years in Broadmoor. The psychiatric community's criteria for diagnosing psychopathy (which isn't listed in its handbook, DSM-IV) is a checklist developed by the Canadian prison psychologist Robert Hare. Using Hare's rubric, which includes "glibness," "grandiose sense of self-worth," and "lack of remorse," Ronson sets off to interview possible psychopaths, many of them in positions of power, from a former Haitian militia leader to a power-hungry CEO. Raising more questions than it answers, and far from a dry medical history lesson, this book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through "the madness business."
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This was a fascinating journey with the author in his quest to better understand the human condition. Just when he thinks he's got a good grip on the realm of normal, twists and doubts creep back in and therein somewhat abandon (or maybe just challenge) the reader to draw their own conclusions. Very enjoyable read.
I have an embarrassing number of books that I've started and not finished, but this one grabbed me to the point that I used every spare minute I could find (lunch break, waiting for a client, etc.) to read.
Ronson does an excellent job of ultimately remaining objective in spite of his own neuroses, which often make him temporarily caught up in the moment.
Is psychiatry a sham or is it truly helping to protect the public and cure the unhealthy? Are we overmedicating ourselves and our children? What exactly is a psychopath, and who gets to decide who is given such a label? Do these psychopaths -- a small percentage of our population -- have a disproportionate level of control over our world?
The sheer number of people Ronson interviews to explore these questions is mind-bogggling. If I have one criticism of the book it would be that: I did have to go back a few pages once in a while to remember who contributed what to the story. But this is a minor complaint about a masterfully written piece of investigative journalism. I highly recommend it, as it may be my favorite non-fiction work since "The Wisdom of Crowds".