Review of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am very late to discover Jon Ronson and The Psychopath Test which appears to now be a cult classic. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but came across it in a store and was intrigued by the title, the cover and then the blurb. It was reasonably priced, so I decided to give it a go and I am so pleased I did.

Firstly, this book is non-fiction (I mostly read fiction and honestly when you read parts of this you might mistake it for a psychological thriller).

This story is what it says on the cover, a journey. So, you learn more and more about what it means to be a psychopath and how they are defined (these days). The book starts with a strange hoax that has been sent to a variety of individuals in the world.

Cover: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Cover: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

It then introduces us to The Hare Psychopathy checklist, the standard screening test for potential psychopaths. Suddenly, armed with this material Jon is finding everyone around him seems to have these psychopathic traits (and indeed many do as most people display some symptoms of psychopathy). Jon is particularly interested in the business world after finding out psychopaths are found in greater proportions among CEOs and indeed meets some very interesting individuals in the process.

Alongside this is the story of Tony. Tony committed GBH at the age of seventeen and in an attempt to evade the prison system decided to feign madness. He was then imprisoned in Broadmoor. He then had the difficult job of convincing people he was sane and twelve years on still hadn’t. As he says, how do you sit in a sane way, how do you act in a sane way? With psychologists watching your every move the more normal you try to act, the more self-conscious you become. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, is he a psychopath or not? Well, that’s what Jon tries to figure it.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style.
GRAPHIC CONTENT
Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘One of my old buds from the FBI was investigating this woman, Karla Homolka,’ Bob had told me earlier. ‘She and her husband had videotaped themselves torturing and raping and murdering these young women. The police were taking her through the house where they’d cut up the bodies, carved them up, and Karla was saying, “My sister would like that rug…”. They took her into the bathroom and Karla was saying, “Can I ask you something? I had a bottle of perfume here…” Totally disconnected.’

As mentioned above, some of the writing and scenes are quite graphic, as you can imagine they would be in a book of this kind, dealing with mental health and violence.

💭 Overall View: I really enjoyed this book. I’ve never really read anything like it before. I did study psychology in college when I was younger so I do have an interest in this topic and understanding how people’s minds work. It’s odd and it’s not the quickest read but it is interesting and I find myself reflecting back on it.

P.s. Jon has also done a TED talk on this book which people may find interesting.

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