Review originally posted at Diary of a Young Semi Professional
With a title like The Psychopath Test, it’d be impossible not to pick up. Especially when it has a $6.99 price tag on it, courtesy of Brookline Booksmith.
I’ve been getting into pop science lately (see: Mary Roach) and I think most people have this draw toward the weird, strange, misunderstood, and/or macabre. And let’s be honest, we’ve all had those days where we spend a couple hours researching serial killers on Wikipedia.
The Psychopath Test draws you in by making the claim that a decent percentage of individuals in positions of power are, in fact, psychopaths. I’m sure we’ve all had that one boss who comes to mind.
At the start of the book, psychopaths are rarely mentioned. Instead, Jon Ronson focuses on how he came to begin his fascination on psychopaths. It begins with an elaborate hoax sent to a team of researchers, scientists, and academics. A puzzle.
One of the scientists that Jon comes across in being called to help solve this puzzle is one who studies psychopaths and, from there, the rest is history.
The book reads well. I blew threw it really quickly and rarely does the content become dry and boring. The thing that most enthralled me was that everything was true. At times, I was almost in disbelief that these stories were factual, that these people existed, but sure enough…they were. I would have to stop reading just to Google facts Ronson mentioned.
Like the schizophrenic artist who resided in a basement at an “experimental therapeutic community” in London. She lived in the basement because she began painting with her excrement. She then later recovered and went on to become a rather successful artist.
Her name was Mary Barnes and she’s a real person.
There is an actual test from which the book gets its title. I checked; I’m not a psychopath. And Ronson does use it while he interviews certain people, like the former CEO of Sunbeam Products. It’s obvious that knowing how to use the test can easily become a slippery slope, as Ronson begins going through the list with nearly everyone he meets.
However, the people he chooses to interview are an odd mix and I would have liked to have seen more powerful individuals covered to either help substantiate Ronson’s earlier claims, or to dismiss it. We only get a handful and I was definitely left wanting to read more, to know more.
Toward the end of the book, Ronson takes a strange turn, talking about the DSM. It’s the big book that psychiatrists and other mental health providers use when diagnosing patients. From the DSM, he poses the question if perhaps the psychiatric industry is going too far, if they’re over-diagnosing conditions that don’t really exists. There’s even a little bit on how it relates to pharmaceutical companies get on the action to push their latest medications.
It felt disjointed from the rest of the book, as if Ronson changed gears three-quarters of the way through writing. It’s still an argument worth pursuing. I just don’t think it should have been done in this book.
Overall, I really enjoyed it, though the last quarter of the book didn’t match the content and momentum from before. If you find yourself even remotely interested in this type of subject matter, I definitely encourage you to read it.