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addabook - The Psychopath Test
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The Psychopath Test
A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Jon Ronson
read on May 15, 2019

Ronson's schtick is writing about interesting, different people - a kind of laymans Oliver Sacks. But what he does exceedingly well is to go a step further than just a clinical analysis of an individual (though, he does this well also). Ronson's strength is how he puts these unique people in context of society, and describe the effect they have on others at large.

In The Psychopath Test, Ronson starts by exploring the nature and some history of psychopathy, with the obvious extreme examples in mass murderers, serial killers, etc. But the book quickly pivots to an exploration of more functional psychopaths - the CEOs, the bankers, the titans of politics and industry, military leaders, and how the mental conditions traditionally tied to psychopathy lead to success in those other contexts, and how psychopathy more broadly has changed society at large. The driving force in the book is Robert Hare's Psychopathy Checklist, which Ronson uses somewhat humorously to examine himself and seemingly everyone else he meets. The highlight for me was his interview with Al Dunlap of Sunbeam infamy.

This ultimately leads to its own undoing. Ronson scrutinizes this method of diagnosis-via-checklist and briefly explores other ways that the practice generally leads to other terrible consequences - e.g., how so many children are now classified as bipolar, or ADHD, etc. 

Ronson's humor, borne mainly from his own crippling internal anxiety (either that he himself is a psychopath, or that he is doing something terrible by labeling others as such) is great. His genuine fascination with eccentric people is compelling. I always enjoy his books, though this one came in several notches below Them. Oddly, this is the first Ronson book I ever wanted to read - it's incredible cover put it on my wishlist right as it was published, but it took me a decade to finally get to it.

Author Bio:

Jon Ronson is a Welsh journalist and documentary filmmaker whose works include The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. He has been described as a gonzo journalist, becoming a faux-naïf character in his stories. He produces informal but sceptical investigations of controversial fringe politics and science.