My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jon Ronson’s the Psychopath Test is a compelling and entertaining documentary novel about clinical categorisation of mental illness. This is a fascinating foray into the prevalence of psychopathy within the criminal justice system, most obviously, but more intriguingly into identifying psychopaths within the power-wielding echelons of society, where it is asserted that psychopathic traits enable an individual to thrive.
Ronson introduces us to some charismatic, confident and mercenary characters from convicted murderers to billionaire businessmen in a variety of environments from high-security prisons to opulent estates as he investigates the nature of psychopathy, if they really do meet Bob Hare’s criteria and what that means. Throughout his encounters which he approaches with a remarkably cavalier attitude, the author endearingly reveals his naivety, arrogance, insensitivity, fear and doubts as we get to know the surface of his, simultaneously, charming and menacing interviewees.
There is discontinuity throughout the book which can, at times, seem like a number of disparate journalistic articles shoved together between the covers and the structure is so loosely circular it’s hardly worth referring back to Being or Nothingness at the end. However, the reporter’s journey is the glue that holds it together as Ronson’s personal foibles and anxieties add an appealing quality of self-awareness to the novel that finds him ultimately examining his own mental health in relation to the moral impetus and nature of his enquiry into psychopathy.
The Psychopath Test raises important questions and warnings about the necessity, the fallibility and the dangers of clinical labelling but as he turns the spotlight inward to his own profession, Ronson critically observes media treatment of those who are just the right kind of mad for the public to swallow with their eggs on toast in the morning.
Jon Ronson’s fast-paced, journalistic style and neurotic wit make the Psychopath Test a hugely entertaining and greatly informative read easily digestible within 3 or 4 evenings. I highly recommend this book and yes, I did take the psychopath test and I’m quite confident that I could do a much better job than Robert Hare and my list will attain global renown, once I have lied and connived my way into the Royal College of Psychiatrists, about which I will feel absolutely no remorse. 😉