The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson is a non-fiction investigative journalism book published in 2011. It’s available everywhere, including from Powell’s.
From the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test takes us inside Ron L. Hubbard’s house. We also meet a death squad leader. We learn about David Shayler, who went from conspiracy theorist to messiah. We find out about a treatment program that tried to fix psychopaths with LSD.
If you’re going to do an investigative study of people whose amygdalas aren’t working at full capacity, then send in someone with an overactive amygdala, like Jon Ronson, who has an above average level of anxiety. Perfect for rubbing shoulders with psychopaths, right?
Jon Ronson is an investigative journalist and author of Them, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Frank, and Lost at Sea. You can frequently find his work in The Guardian. He co-hosts the literary comedy night I’m New Here in Brooklyn. @jonronson
Besides his interviews, Ronson also takes Bob Hare’s psychopath spotting course. I’ve read a lot of comments about The Psychopath Test that say the book, like Hare’s course, will help you spot psychopaths. Bob Hare has a twenty-question checklist to help you: Grandiose sense of self-worth, cunning and manipulative, pathological lying, superficial charm, and the obvious one: lack of empathy. Ronson, too, says that after taking Hare’s course, he is an expert at spotting psychopaths, but, reader beware, Ronson writes in absolutes and dramatic irony. Actually, this book isn’t unveiling the checklist as the perfect diagnostic tool but instead recognizes that psychopathy is not so black and white. To illustrate, Ronson visits a man he calls Tony. Tony has been locked up for years for pretending to be a psychopath, but now it seems that, according to Bob Hare’s checklist, he really is a psychopath. Is this the case or is there something fundamentally wrong with the system? It isn’t just Bob Hare who is using a checklist system, after all. The DSM manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the standard manual offered by the American Psychiatric Association, is also full of checklists.
“There is no evidence that we’ve been placed on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal. And in fact our unhappiness and our strangeness, our anxieties and compulsions, those least fashionable aspects of our personalities, are quite often what lead us to do rather interesting things.” -Jon Ronson
The Psychopath Test will ask more questions than it answers, but it is a fascinating story of madness and how it influences politics, business, medicine, and culture. For instance, the percentage of people with psychopathy is one in one hundred, but the percentage of CEOs with psychopathy is one in five. What does that tell you about how our world is run?
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