Book Club Review: The Psychopath Test

If there was one good thing to come out of Sandy, it was that I had a lot of time on my hands. I used at least part of that time to finally finish Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test.

 

I started this book (I think) when we were flying to Germany. I needed an actual (non-Kindle) book to read for those terrible 20 minutes during take off and landing when ALL electronic devices MUST be turned off. Yes, I need to read 100% of the time I’m on a plane or I panic, and yes I turn everything off even if the flight attendants aren’t looking because I’m a rule-follower like that.

I never finished it because it’s just easier to carry my Kindle with me, and I didn’t feel like downloading a book I had already purchased. However, being out of power felt like the perfect time to revert to good old fashioned book-books.

I first heard about this book on This American Life’s podcast and was fascinated. They focused on a specific part of the book that posits that the same qualities that define psychopathy also make for shrewd and often ruthless corporate executives. I love the human mind and all its intricacies, so I was hooked.

The book is really well written and surprisingly light for a meditation on madness. Don’t get me wrong, it has supremely creepy moments that made me regret reading it in the aftermath of a storm so devastating it left an almost post-apocalyptic landscape in its wake,  but Ronson’s style is excellent and pulls readers up from the trenches right before they’ve had enough.

Though The Psychopath Test does discuss a lot of the psychology behind psychopathy and other disorders, it never feels dense or dull. Ronson writes like a (very funny) friend who’s telling you about a report they saw on the news, so you feel like you’re really getting it.

While there is discussion of the qualities that both psychopaths and business-people share, more of the book is focused on what Ronson calls, “The Madness Industry.” He explores what makes some forms or degrees of madness (think reality television) intriguing and other forms too terrifyingly true to form (think the kind of story that makes you feel like maybe we’re all a little crazy). He also looks back on the history of psychology and at-home diagnosis and gets input from both opponents and supporters of the field.

If you enjoy psychology, you’ll love this book, but it’s certainly not a prerequisite. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting and entertaining read. Maybe just don’t read it before bed.

 

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