February 5, 2012

Review - The Psychopath Test (Jon Ronson)

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.

While Jon Ronson has previously paid tribute to men who stare at goats, he's now giving all those madmen out there a scrutinizing look in his book The Psychopath Test, almost single-handedly solving the puzzle of a mysterious book and the person behind it.
I must admit that before I started reading, and even throughout the first chapter, I thought this book was riding mostly on the humorous wave, yet it turned out to be wonderfully entertaining and self deprecating, while at the same time taking a smart and serious look at what psychopaths are made of. Jon skilfully eases into the subject taking the reader on a journey through the madness industry. Not just observing, he inevitably finds himself doing amateur diagnosis of those around him, and he does not spare himself either.
One has to wonder about that fine line that separates crazy from normal. Why do some people end up in a mental institution despite appearing to be perfectly normal folks? Or what about high achievers who show scarily many traits that fit into the scheme of "psychopaths"? Do the mad know they are mad? Could it be possible, just how Scientologists believe, that there is no such thing as mental illness?
This book won't give easy answers to any of these questions, instead it tries to make sense, sometimes doubting then believing, but most of all making you rethink your own preconceptions and knowledge.
In short: A fascinating topic - a wild, mad read!

4/5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Pan MacMillan. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

1 comment:

  1. Wow this sounds like an amazing book! It will be on my "need to get one day" book list