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The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Jon Ronson

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2,3041062,755 (3.79)100
Title:The Psychopath Test
Authors:Jon Ronson
Info:Picador (2012), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (2011)

  1. 20
    The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: This book also deals with recognizing and dealing with people who lack the ability to empathize with others and who see emotions as a weakness to be exploited. The tone is more scholarly and clinical.
  2. 10
    Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (Sandydog1)
  3. 01
    A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father by Augusten Burroughs (WildMaggie)
    WildMaggie: The personal experience of living with one versus the science of finding one.

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Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
This is the sort of book that I tend to enjoy – a journalist tells amusing stories about his investigations into a particular topic – but which readers with a more focused interest in the purported subject may find frustrating. Ronson portrays himself as a cheerfully unmethodical explorer of the world of craziness, meeting with experts, prisoners, and potentially psychotic retired executives and presenting their stories and his responses in a lively, vivid style. Some of the stories involved, almost necessarily, are rather horrible, but he keeps the gruesome stuff to a minimum and finds the absurd humor in situations where you might not expect to find it. As engaging and entertaining a book on psychopaths as you are likely to find, and I particularly enjoyed the way he concluded his story. Four and a half stars. ( )
  meandmybooks | Jun 21, 2017 |
4.5 stars

Jon Ronson is one of those writers - like David Sedaris - whose voice you hear as you read his words; the soft, slightly effete, often uncertain lilt of his sounding in the reader's inner ear. This is one of the things that makes him such an engaging writer, along with his style of placing himself (and his neuroses, which are particularly apposite in this context) directly in view, a method which rather than obscuring his subjects illuminates them, by giving us such an upfront view. The very subjectivity of Ronson's journalistic style allows us to see the complexity of the tale with clarity.

In this book Ronson stitches together, as usual, stories that illuminate a single theme - initially tied loosely but bound tighter and tighter as the book progresses. The chapters each involve a way in which we view madness, starting with his own rather off-hand description of an interviewee as a "psychopath" and his involvement in an entirely unrelated mystery (which is ultimately used to bookend the volume) which then spirals off from his increasing fascination with the diagnosis of mental disorders following delving into the DSM-IV (and subsequent self diagnosis of a dozen disorders). We meet a patient at Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital, committed following an insanity plea when on trial for GBH and a subsequent diagnosis as a psychopath, a history of that disorder and its diagnosis and treatment, and then on to a gallery of cases involving both people Ronson has interviewed (psychologists, psychiatrists, a former Haitian paramilitary leader, a corporate CEO famous for his glee in downsizing for fun and profit, former MI5 agent David Shayler) and others whose lives have been changed by direct or indirect contact either those who may have psychiatric disorders or with the madness industry tat has grown around them.

The connecting thread is this; that over recent decades we have become increasingly fond of defining behaviours that lay on the spectrum of human personality as 'disorders', using methods which may or may not be scientific and may or may not be accurate. There is plenty of questioning of those methods in this book, but the criticism is largely leveled at those people and organisations that are too ready to use these blunt tools for their own ends - whether it is the pharmaceutical industry and their ever increasing push to medicate human difference or the Metropolitan Police entrapping a neat suspect in a murder case despite a complete lack of evidence, while possibly allowing the actual killer the freedom to kill again.

Ronson is sometimes described as a humorist (as does Will Self in his Guardian review quoted on the blurb) but I think this is entirely misleading. Ronson is and always has been a journalist, albeit one who uses his wit and humour to allow us insights to the things about which he writes, a technique which is also effective when he drops it to highlight the sad or horrific - the town of Shubuta, Mississippi, devastated when the local toaster factory was closed to increase the manufacturing company's share price, the murders committed by actual violent psychopaths, the deaths and harm caused by the 'reality' TV industry when they have focused on a distorted view of what is not 'normal'. And, unlike much journalism, this does not attempt to give definite answers; the threads Ronson has drawn together are tied neatly enough to make sense but with enough frayed, trailing lines to leave the reader pondering long after closing the book. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
The book is subtitled 'A Journey Through the Madness Industry' which is a more accurate title for the book, although psychopathy and the Hare checklist do take centre stage. Topics covered include psychopaths in big business, psychopaths in prisons, Scientologists, selection of 'mad enough' people for TV, criminal profiling, and the things that can go wrong for all of them. A fascinating topic coupled with Ronson's engaging style meant an entertaining and quick read. ( )
  Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |
Equipped with a 40 point questionnaire provided by its creator, Ronson sets out to identify psychopaths (once and for all, I now know that 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' are one and the same thing). He makes the very valid and probably all too true point that psychopaths are often to be found at the top of the echelon, as politicians and especially CEOs, since their lack of empathy and competitive urge and predatory instincts are useful traits to have in a cut-throat financial market. In the later part of the book, Ronson makes the case that psychiatry has overreached its purpose by giving diagnoses where none are necessarily needed, and he mentions both autism and bipolar disorder as two of the most commonly inappropriately and overused mental conditions ascribed to children. One specialist argues that there is no real evidence that bipolar disorder actually exists in children, as apparently the illness usually develops in late teens or young adulthood and not before. I contest this finding as I'm absolutely certain I've been 'bipolar' (or whatever new term they find for my specific condition in future) since early childhood.

One theory he proposes is that society, and specifically, all the EVILS in society, are caused by psychopaths shaping the world to suit their needs for exploitation and victimization. I believe this book has been hugely influential since it came out in 2011 and may directly or indirectly have influenced journalists and the public at large to claim that the current POTUS is unhinged and probably a psychopath... though since this term isn't used in DSM-4 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; DSM-5 was released in 2013, after the publication of this book), the closest diagnosis they can give is 'narcissistic personality disorder', which essentially amounts to the same thing.

Statistics show that 1% of the population are psychopaths and that they are much more present in our daily lives than we might realize. Most people reading on psychology and psychiatry has a natural tendency to worry that they may have whatever illness is described, so the question 'am I a psychopath?' is bound to occur to most readers, but the author claims that just the fact of worrying if you are one indicates you definitely aren't, since psychopaths aren't capable of introspection to begin with. Also, anyone with a surfeit of empathy, as Joh Ronson is (he suffers from pronounced anxiety problems) is more likely to be a victim of a predatory sociopath than to become one. The current theory is that people are born this way and are impossible to 'cure' and that trying to rehabilitate them only teaches them how to more convincingly mimic how most sane people express emotions, in effect providing a kind of 'finishing school' for psychopaths. I found those segments describing how the illness (or characters trait) is manifested and how researchers used extremely unusual methods (including LSD trials) to find a 'cure' really fascinating. Definitely recommended. ( )
1 vote Smiler69 | Feb 12, 2017 |
I love Jon Ronson because he’s witty and somewhat snarky but writes very well, and his nonfiction really pulls you in. This book was incredibly interesting, and referenced a fair amount of Them, which is the next book I will read by him (about conspiracy theories - yay!). His subject matter is always incredibly interesting. ( )
  howifeelaboutbooks | Dec 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
Mr. Ronson’s latest book has less ballast. Though he retains his own paranormal ability to locate and befriend wing nuts of every stripe, he has to try a little harder than usual to get “The Psychopath Test” going. Chalk up some of that forced quality to the fact that Mr. Ronson’s BBC Radio 4 program, “Jon Ronson on ...,” is considered comedy. Throw in the fact that most psychopaths aren’t really all that funny. Still, his winning style pervades most of “The Psychopath Test,” as when Mr. Ronson wonders whether he will have psychopaths for readers. According to the second characteristic on the 20-item Hare Psychopathy Checklist (from which this book takes its title), some of them will. “Grandiose sense of self-worth” is one of their notable traits. “What should my message to them be?” he asks one Harvard Medical School psychologist. “Turn yourselves in?”
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For Anita Bhoomkar (1996-2009),
a lover of life and all its madness
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This is a story about madness.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"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 Ronsonhow 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, moreand more, defined by their maddest edges"-- "In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and journalists who study them"--… (more)

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