Book Review: The Psychopath Test. Jon Ronson

Hilarious and disturbing. I suspect Jon Ronson would strike a couple of checkmarks in the Hare PCL-R Checklist against my name for finding his latest work both hilarious and disturbing. Would this, perhaps, make me a psychopath?

Jon Ronson is author of The Psychopath Test and the Hare PCL-R, named for its inventor,  Canadian psychologist Bob Hare, is the gold standard in personality trait measurement for psychopathic disorder (officially known as Antisocial Personality Disorder).

Ronson’s book is a fascinating journey through the “madness industry” covering psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, criminal scientists, criminal profilers, and of course their clients: patients, criminals and the “insane” at large. Fascinated by the psychopathic traits that the industry applied to the criminally insane, Ronson goes on to explore these behavior and personality traits in the general population. And, perhaps to no surprise he finds that a not insignificant proportion of business leaders and others in positions on authority could be classified as “psychopaths” based on the standard PCL-R checklist.

Ronson’s stories are poignant. He tells us the tale of Tony, who feigned madness to avoid what he believed would be have been a harsher prison sentence for a violent crime. Instead, Tony found himself in Broadmoor, a notorious maximum security institution for the criminally insane. Twelve years on, Tony still incarcerated, finds it impossible to convince anyone of his sanity, despite behaving quite normally. His doctors now admit that he was sane at the time of admission, but agree that he must have been nuts to feign insanity in the first place, and furthermore only someone who is insane could behave so “sanely” while surrounded by the insane!

Tony’s story and the other characters that Ronson illuminates in this work are thoroughly memorable, especially Al Dunlap, empathy poor, former CEO of Sunbeam — perhaps one of the high-functioning psychopaths who lives in our midst. Peppered throughout Ronson’s interviews with madmen and madwomen, are his perpetual anxiety and self-reflection; he now has considerable diagnostic power and insight versed on such tools as the PCL-R checklist. As a result, Ronson begins seeing “psychopaths” everywhere.

My only criticism of the book is that Jon Ronson should have made it 200 pages longer and focused much more on the “psychopathic” personalities that roam amongst us, not just those who live behind bars, and on the madness industry itself, now seemingly lead by the major¬† pharmaceutical companies.