The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson
Picador 2011

When a mysterious book is anonymously delivered to several of the world’s best brains, the Curious George of journalists gets involved when none of them can crack the code.  Someone has single-handedly sent the earth’s leading experts into a simultaneous tailspin, and Jon Ronson is sent to find out who they are and what they want. He begins his journey into the people who aren’t so plugged in, those with a screw loose: the world of psychopaths.

The Psychopath Test’ is a light-hearted, creatively uplifting approach to the potential madness of the human brain, and I have never read anything like it. It’s wonderfully easy to read and I would recommend for anyone 17 or older.

The dynamic, embarrassingly humorous book takes the reader by the hand to meet psychopaths of all shapes and sizes. Do psychopaths really exist? And who are they? The book shows interviews between several so-called psychopaths and the traits that define them. The description of how psychopathic tendencies have been treated in the past is indeed quite shocking. LSD-induced trances, deep sleep therapy, even nude group therapy baths. None of it worked.

Psychologist Bob Hare invented the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to identify psychopaths out in the wild. Equipped with this checklist, Ronson travels to high security prisons, mental health hospitals and a Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit to see if he can determine who is psychopathic and who isn’t whilst trying not to be devilishly charmed in the process.

On a bizarre accusation by Scientologists that psychiatry is a farce, he reads the DSM-1V-TR; a handbook for psychiatrists everywhere containing all the mental disorders known to man. If you or I were to read this book, we could probably diagnose ourselves with several disorders right off the bat. Ronson could: he diagnosed himself with twelve. Ronson speculates that we may have taken if a bit too far with our desire to label. From experiencing shakes after too much coffee (Caffeine Induced Disorder) to procrastination (Malingering), anyone with any kind of anomaly is labelled and segregated.

Ronson forms wariness and doubt in the mind, which he gleefully explores. Is the psychiatry business just due to the compulsion to categorize things? Do the pharmaceutical companies just want to glean another profit by exploiting this compulsion? How many people have been unnecessarily labelled?

I was moved by his willingness to get down and dirty with the people that the average Joe would personally stay away from. This allowed for an invitingly fresh point of view unhindered from social censorship. His personal take on these certainly colourful characters, along with his willingness to get up close with murderers, makes for a wondrous read that I devoured.

4.75 stars


Words by Sarah Ingham