Book Review – The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The problem with psychopaths is that they are EVERYWHERE. You’ve probably interacted with one this past week. The Psychopath Test is a true account of a journalist who journeys through the world of madness.

Jon Ronson gets a call from a scientist who would like to know if he could help her  uncover the hidden message behind a package she and her colleagues have received. She has enjoyed reading some of his articles, she informs him, and that he seems like “the kind of journalist who’d enjoy the odd whodunnit.” She’s right as rain.

This call fires up Ronson’s curiosity and he sets off on a quest to decode the message behind the packages, a journey that leads him deep into the business of madness.

He soon discovers, perhaps unsurprisingly, that psychiatric diagnoses are getting closer and closer to the boundaries of normal. Pyschopaths aren’t just holed up in lunatic asylums and psychiatric wards, they are also normal, high performing individuals in the society.

Ronson gets closer to a powerful politician, a company CEO, a death squad gang leader, and Tony, a smart chap who faked madness to get out of a prison sentence. When Tony learns about Ronson’s investigation, he calls him up and asks for a meeting. Many of the residents in the asylum tend to be a little overweight and wear sweat pants and t-shirts. But Tony shows up for the meeting in a neat, black pinstripe suit.

Tony managed to avoid the prison sentence but is now stuck in the mental facility for more than 10 years. The administrators (psychiatrists) concludes that he doesn’t pass a 20-point psychopath test developed by an influential psychiatrist.

Note: I almost failed this 20-point test.

Yes, they finally agree that Tony faked madness. But he’s instead, a psychopath. And there are “many clues.” Ronson questions the psychiatrists at the asylum about Tony’s case and he’s stunned by their. Tony’s kind of madness, they say, “is the kind of madness that makes the world go round.”

Ronson tracks down the influential psychiatrist and signs up for one of his how-to-spot-a-psychopath classes. Armed with his new skills, he sets about identifying psychopaths and is shocked to meet them almost everywhere he goes.

This book is a gripping, fact-based thriller you won’t put down. I flew through it in a day and when it came to a shuddering finish, I went outside in the night and howled at the moon.

Ronson eventually solved the mystery of the strange packages. But the story leaves you with more questions than answers about the mental health landscape. The very people who we rely on to diagnose mental health disorders seem to have disorders of their own.

Five stars from me!  

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