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In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

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Published: Penguin Group on May 12, 2011
ISBN: 9781101515167
List price: $12.99
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I could not stop listening to this book, not to mention how much I brought it up in random conversations and thought about the implications! There are claims such as 1% of people are psychopaths and 5x's as many can be found leading corporations and countries as politicians. Ronson concludes the book with intriguing ideas such as how we should label semi-psychopaths and when we should or should not label children with disorders such as Bi-polar disorder.read more
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This book was reviewed in the SF Chronicle and featured on the Daily Show, largely based on the assertion that one in every 100 people is a psychopath (a statistic which prompted a lot of discussion between teachers of 100 or more students). I thought that the book would be about the number of psychopaths living in society, but really it was about use and misuse of mental health check-lists provided in the DSM and how people in Western culture use these lists to understand and treat mental illness. Structured around research and interviews of psychopaths, the doctors who treat them and the members of the media who exploit them, this was a captivating, thought-provoking and fast read.read more
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An interesting look into the world of psychology and particularly psychopaths. Ronson posits that some of our business and world leaders may have reached their pinnacles because of the character traits inherent in being a psychopath. Cool stuff if you like psychology!read more
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Intriguing, frightening and uncomfortably hilarious.read more
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i started reading this book with the wrong expectations. i thought it would be a funny (ish) piece of fiction concerning psychopathy. it turned out to be more of a written documentary (journalistic?) about madness and mad people. and while it sure was entertaining and very informative, i didn't find it quite as hilarious as the blurbs promised.i got interested in jon ronson's works because he seems to dabble with topics that are not run-of-the-mill. and his writing style seem quirky enough to register high in my fun-meter. i chose to start with this particular work of his because i've recently had a spike in my interest in pop psychiatry, the very real effects of mental challenges in real life, and psychopaths in general.the book revolves around the titular psychopath test, a checklist devised by psychologist robert hare to determine if a person is a psychopath or not. this checklist, it turns out, is used extensively as grounds for legally and/or medically detaining someone. in each chapter, ronson explores how psychopaths think and feel, how hare's checklist accurately reflects (and to some extent, predict) psychopathic behavior, how psychopathy/sanity gets morphed into different forms in each individual (aren't we all just a little bit psychopathic?), and how, in spite of advances, flawed and exploitable the field of psychiatry still is. i have 3 main beefs with the book:1. the writing jumps around too much (in time, in point of view, etc) for me to fully enjoy it. ultimately, there's this feeling that not all loose ends have been tied up nicely. having said that, i breezed through the book in record time (a record for me anyway), which is my way of admitting i probably missed a lot of the nuances of the book.2. in spite of ronson's investigation supposedly being journalistic, i felt the book was overwhelmingly one sided. the evidences, the case studies, the chapters, all seemed stacked to prove the psychopath test is accurate.there are, of course, instances through out the book that argues otherwise, that suggests our understanding of what (or who) is sane or not is tenuous at best. ronson actually seems to make the subtle point that those who administer the test have more than a taint of psychopathy themselves. but it didn't feel enough for me.at this point, i feel compelled to add that the psychopath test, in my limited experience, seem scary accurate in select circumstances.3. and this is what i cant stand the most. mr. hare contends that psychopathy can be detected but not cured. in other words, once you fail some 40-point test and get labelled a psychopath, that's it. game over. there's no hope for you and the only responsible thing that those around you can do is to condemn/commit you inside some sort of institution, for life, to protect society from you.that just feels instinctively wrong. firstly, how can a checklist define someone's life? how can a checklist end someone's life? doesn't that just sound...arrogant? psychopathic? i grant that there really are criminally insane people out there, and insane people who are very good at masking their criminal behavior. but given that even the best psychologists will admit that the mind is still full of surprises, shouldn't we have a little less faith on a checklist, specially one that carries legal repercussions?i don't profess to be an expert, but ronson puts it very nicely: the psychopath test in the wrong hands can be very dangerous.secondly... i know of people who suffers from real problems. not psychopaths (although i may know some of those as well...i might be guilty of being one myself), but i've seen and experienced their difficulties. and i must say, as little as my understanding is of psychology and life in general, it seems insulting that important matters of the mind with very real life changing effects can be (seemingly) wantonly decided by a test. that does not seem very different to putting lives at stake on the roll of a die or the toss of a coin.lastly, the book has obviously affected me enough to make me write a long rambling review on a lazy day. that, i think, makes it deserving the extra half star.read more
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As a Psychology major, I enjoyed this books quite a bit. The only critique I have is that some of the people and names were hard to follow or remember their connection to the story line. I would like a little more information on "Being and nothingness" as it still confuses me.read more
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Saw the interview on 'John Stewart', then ordered it like a cubic zirconia tennis bracelet from The Shopping Channel. I got a slow start with it. The Kindle app formatting is kinda shitty. Stray lines. Typos. I kept asking myself whether anybody checked it out beforehand. Then again, maybe they wanted it to look that way. Once I got used to this clash of esthetics, I found it a great deal of fun. Wha? A book about psychopathy fun? He doesn't just seek out the usual suspects. He talks to Bob Hare who came up with the oft used checklist to spot it. I was worried at first, that Ronson would turn out to be one of tthose 'it all comes back to me' sorts of interviewers, but he asked many of the questions I would have liked to ask. He doesn't give the impression of being thorough, but he is. So he talked with Bob Hare, which resulted in his seeing psychopaths everywhere. He visited Al Dunlap, dismantler of Sunbeam to wonder whether he might be one. "He pointed at a sculpture of four sharks encircling the planet. 'I believe in predators,' he said. 'Their spirit will enable you to succeed. Over there you've got falcons. Alligators. Alligators. More alligators. Tigers.''It's As if both Midas and also the Queen of Narnia were here,' I said, 'and the Queen of Narnia flew above a particularly fierce zoo and turned everything there to stone and then transported everything here.''What?' said Al.'Nothing,' I said.'No,' he said, 'What did you just say?'He shot me a steely, blue-eyed stare, which I found quite debilitating. "I appreciated how he took the subject out of prison where we, the still living prey can really relate to it. Of course,I liked this because it's really all about me. Without seeming to, he also gets into some searching questions about journalism and madness.read more
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The first non-fiction book I have read in a while and it didn't disappoint. I love Ronson's affable, easy going, self-deprecating writing style and will certainly be seeking out more of his books. The Psychopath Test offers an interesting viewpoint into psychopathy. It's incredible to think how the diagnosis rests upon tick boxing up to a list of 20 characteristics of The Hare Psychopathy Checklist (the diagnostic tool used to rate a person's psychopathic or antisocial tendencies). In all honesty most of us would be able to at least tick a couple of tendencies on the list however, prior to its' introduction diagnosis was even more subjective.The theme running through the book is the investigation into the possibility of how certain people in positions of power may actually be psychopaths or at least have psychopathic tendencies. When we imagine a psychopath we are probably thinking about someone who has killed or physically hurt someone. Rostron poses the theory that there are psychopaths who walk among us and may work with us, who are focused on power and leadership and making their way in the world through manipulation, domination and control. They may be in high powered jobs and essentially do not care about what they are doing to other people and society. This is a scary thought and I ended up thinking of leaders and managers who could fit into the boxes of the Hare test....Goodness me! Imagine a country or multi-national company being run by a psychopathic leader, your own boss being a psychopath!? I'm sure it isn't beyond the realms of possibility. It's certainly an interesting viewpoint and whilst I don't think we can start to put all the ills of the world down to psychopathic managers and leaders it certainly made me think and look at the world with different eyes. If this is indeed the case it is comforting to know that there really is sod all I can do about it and so I need to create a life in my own bubble seeking to find the switch to 'blissful ignorance' and turning it to the 'on' position...read more
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A fast, light read with an engaging tone and a muddled thesis. Like others, I do wish there had been more science in this pop-science book, but it did give me the idea to take the actual 20-question psychopath test and compare it with some romances I've read, especially the old-school rapey ones, with the question Is the hero an ass-hat or a psychopathic ass-hat?"read more
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Sort of interesting, but a little too much about Jon Ronson and his supposedly endearing nebbishy ways. I was kind of into it in his last book, but now it's a bit tiresome.read more
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You gotta respect a writer who, in a mansion full of creepy statuary as the invited guest of Mr. & Mrs. Albert Duncan, has the nerve to ask Mr. Duncan if "Chainsaw Al" is a psychopath.The interview with "Toto" is a jaw-dropper and should be so for any American citizen with the brains to connect a few dots. Introspection throughout is both side-splitting and priceless.Another wild ride from Jon Ronson -- if you got the nerve to stay in the car.read more
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Just a few years back, globetrotting journalist Jon Ronson was caught up in praise for his work, The Men Who Stare At Goats, which explored a secretive army experiment that sought to train soldiers in psychic warfare, but really exposed light-hearted idiocy of just one of the many hare-brained schemes to come out of U.S. government toward defeating our ‘enemies’. Now, Ronson is back to explore another segment of society, the psychopath.A brisk read that’s over all too quickly, The Psychopath Test is less about hard conclusions about the kind of people that rise to power by stepping on the heads of others and more about Ronson’s personal journey, beginning to end, of how the concept of psychopaths was introduced to him and how he went about his research. The book starts with a puzzle. A book called Being or Nothingness that has been mysteriously circulated to major academicians around the world. Quickly developing a list of bit players that are suspects, the ensuing adventure leads Ronson to conclude that the author of Being or Nothingness fits the description of the topic he is about to embark, a psychopath.Ronson’s style flits from psychiatry, to Scientology anti-psychiatrists, to Bob Hare, developer of the modern checklist of the psychopath test, to a facility in Broodmoor where an inmate named Tony has been kept under guard for over 10 years, and eventually to a former CEO of the Sunbeam company, who, back when toasters were being churned out in US factories, fired tens of thousands of employees without so much as breaking a sweat.The resulting text is one that doesn’t so much dwell on hard questions about modern psychiatry practices but rather indulges Ronson’s newfound ‘ability’ to spot psychopaths as he rattles off checklist questions that could pertain to certain personalities (lack of empathy; grandiose sense of self-worth). But what is a psychopath? Apart from the imagery a connotation with the word ‘psycho’ drudges up, it is simply a person who can’t experience emotions…at all. Think Dennis from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It isn’t merely a lack of empathy…it’s that the psychopath can’t imagine what it would be like to have it. Imagine if you were born blind…the concept of red just wouldn’t translate into anything meaningful. For psychopaths, emotion is just a weakness, something to be shrugged off or used as a tool in manipulating others.One of the problems facing Ronson is after he attends a weekend seminar by Bob Hare, creator of the Hare Checklist, a group of questions in which, if one scores high enough (over 30), could get you locked up for the rest of your life, Ronson becomes almost psychopathic himself (a tendency he’s all to ready to admit on the part of being a journalist) in trying to break down others’ personalities to conform to the Hare checklist. Is Tony, an inmate who’s been locked away since age 17 who chose to fake mental illness to avoid prison time (inadvertently leading him to the Broodmoor institution in a catch-22 situation), really a psychopath or just someone caught up in the system forever attempting to prove his saneness? Are certain CEOs or people in powerful positions secretly disguising their own psychopathic tendencies to maintain some sense of normalcy?These questions and others are brought up in frantic fashion but never delved into a way that lends credence to exactly how to deal with people of this nature. By the time Ronson brings up the possibility of Wall Street financial honchos possessing these character qualities and the wide-reaching implications, the book’s narrative trip is nearly at a close and remains just a footnote to the overarching question of how DSM illnesses are conceived and diagnosed by specialists. This tumbles into digressions on the modern sense of what most regard as a ‘Prozac Nation’ and an overreaching sense of duty to medicate kids improperly labeled as Bi-Polar or Autistic, when really parents are just tired of trying. What remains with the reader are several tools for diagnosing psychopaths should they ever suspect someone in their circle (apparently they make up 1% of the world population) and a brief history of psychiatry from the LSD-fueled trips of the 60’s and 70’s (which, although, in an attempt to help psychopaths overcome their illness, actually churned out more repeat offenders than if they had merely sent them to a jail for a few years) to the refining of the Bob Hare checklist. So then, are psychopaths secretly ruling the world? Is there a secretive influence to their behavior that has shaped our history in the mold of their mind’s creation? Can’t say definitively, but as a guidebook The Psychopath Test at least gets the discussion going.read more
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Those of you who've already read John Ronson probably know what to expect from "The Psychopath Test": our game, affable narrator sallies forth into the world to interview its strangest, most dangerous inhabitants. He meets a few ringers this time out, too, including a Haitian death squad leader and a man whose diagnosis of psychopathology has gotten him condemned to England's infamous Broadmoor prison. We also meet Al Dunlap, the notorious job-cutter, who proves to be a fantastically unselfconscious capitalist caricature almost too real for reportage. It's all the usual good fun, but the book takes an unexpected, and unexpectedly thoughtful, turn in its last chapters. The author halts the parade of human oddities and meditates instead on the social uses of madness and asks whether any test, even one as well designed as Robert Hare's psychopath test, can accurately classify the entire range of human experience. "The Psychopath Test" is a light and breezy take on its deadly serious subject, but it's recommended.read more
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Who knew that exploring the world of psychopaths could be so entertaining and funny? The author takes a course on administering the Psychopath Checklist and finds himself ticking items on the list, not only when interviewing CEOs and inmates of prisons and asylums, but on the experts and himself. Don’t miss this fascinating, fast-paced look at the complex world of madness.read more
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Took me a while to get through this. The concept and premise were very interesting, but Ronson seemed jump around a bit. He would finish up one of the sub-stories, but didn't seem to have a smooth transition. He would tie in some pieces later which helped. To be fair, I think part of my review had to do with my spotty reading and finishing of this book.read more
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This was an incredibly quick read. The writing is engaging and interesting and even funny at times. Ronson takes you on a little journey with him as he investigates the idea of psychopathy in its various manefestations. It's not particularly groundbreaking, and I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already picked up elsewhere, but it had a personal feel to it--this was a book by a real person about real people.

Ultimately, I wanted it to end on more of a revelation about what a psychopath actually is, but Ronson never really comes down one way or another about what he thinks it is; never endorses one point of view or another, so it was a little unsatisfying in that respect.read more
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Well by now, really you should know what to expect from Jon Ronson. Something light, fluffy, temporarily engaging but ultimately a snack. The non expert view on complex topics. Amusing, superficial, but with its heart ultimately in the right place. Questions asked, but not really answered, as really, they can't be answered. This time Ronson romps through the world of mental illness and its diagnostic frameworks and a disturbing place it is too. But amongst the madness is a serious point to be made. Can you decode psychopathy, or a whole range of other disorders, from a test? Are a whole range of mental disorders really disorders at all, or just eccentricity? Should we be treating eccentricity? Should we be trying to normalise all behaviour? And if psychopathy does exist, do business leaders suffer from it ? (A: Yep, probably. Most of them)It will keep you laughing but you probably wont think about it too much more after you finish itread more
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Clever, entertaining, and with just the right amount of skepticism. I enjoyed this immensely.read more
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How many psychopathic traits do you possess? Any one reading this book can't help but to reflect on 1, how they would do on the test & 2, how many of the people they know or encounter everyday would not pass the test. Mr. Ronson's writing style keeps this book moving along with little chance of boredom. I personally loved each interview he had with a certified psychopath. Quite interesting they would be so candid & agreeable to his questioning, even while raising their eyebrows at some. I guess that;s the Gradiose trait???read more
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Consistenly interesting, frequently bizarre, and often amusing.read more
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This was a quick and enjoyable read mainly because the author has a quirky sense of humour about the subject and himself. Ronson raised some valid points about the link between psychiatry and the drug companies; especially when it comes to the diagnoses of child hood disorders. I found his description of a mishandled profiling case in the UK years ago disturbing; a reminder of how easy it can be to rationalize behaviour when we live in our own little bubbles. In fact, his discussions with both experts and psychopaths were not that different; each saw the world from their own perspective. Ironically, Ronson found that psychopaths intensely study those around them, just as psychologists and psychiatrists do. Struck me that the only difference between the two forms of 'study' being that psychopaths admit they do it because it makes manipulating others easier; none of his experts admitted to the same.read more
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This has to be one of the books that I brought up in conversation more than any other while I was reading it. I learned that you want be careful how you bring this topic up though, otherwise you might risk offending people. They’ll think that you’re implying that they’re psychopaths.You know, like when you mention something like “Hey psychopaths don’t dream very often.” Then thoughtlessly add, “That’s funny, you don’t dream very often.”And nothing wins you brownie points like saying, “You know that relative of yours? After reading this book I’ve noticed they show some traits of a psychopath.”The good news for hypochondriacs though? Evidently if you are worried about being a psychopath then you aren’t one. Good to know, huh?Seriously though, this book was informative, interesting and a little bit scary. It wasn’t just filled with facts (like how there’s a much higher percentage of psychopaths in important corporate positions than in the general public), there were also intimidating tidbits (like how the recidivism rate actually went up for psychopaths who were treated with therapy).And of course there was the actual checklist test. I’m pretty sure I was driving my husband crazy by pointing out psychopathic traits of characters on the TV and in movies. I’m very surprised that my summation of Voldemort’s psychopathic characteristics didn’t earn me an eye-roll.If you like to analyze the people around you then you will have a lot of fun with this book. There isn’t an abundance of scientific information here. It is more a tale of the author’s quest to find out what makes a person a psychopath, and of the interesting people he met along the way.read more
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This was one of the books I purchased based on his talk at TED this year. You may have heard about one of Ronson’s previous books, The Men Who Stare at Goats. He seems to like examining people outside of the ordinary. The Psychopath Test is an enjoyable read that definitely makes you question psychology. I would recommend this book if you are interested in the meaning of psychosis or wonder about what it really means to be psychotic.read more
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While Jon Ronson has previously paid tribute to men who stare at goats, he's now giving all those madmen out there a scrutinizing look in his book The Psychopath Test, almost single-handedly solving the puzzle of a mysterious book and the person behind it.I must admit that before I started reading, and even throughout the first chapter, I thought this book was riding mostly on the humorous wave, yet it turned out to be wonderfully entertaining and self deprecating, while at the same time taking a smart and serious look at what psychopaths are made of. Jon skilfully eases into the subject taking the reader on a journey through the madness industry. Not just observing, he inevitably finds himself doing amateur diagnosis of those around him, and he does not spare himself either.One has to wonder about that fine line that separates crazy from normal. Why do some people end up in a mental institution despite appearing to be perfectly normal folks? Or what about high achievers who show scarily many traits that fit into the scheme of "psychopaths"? Do the mad know they are mad? Could it be possible, just how Scientologists believe, that there is no such thing as mental illness?This book won't give easy answers to any of these questions, instead it tries to make sense, sometimes doubting then believing, but most of all making you rethink your own preconceptions and knowledge.In short: A fascinating topic - a wild, mad read!read more
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When I started reading this book I realized that I'd listened to Mr. Ronson read an early version of a part of this on This American Life, one of my favorite public radio programs. I actually listened to the story several times because it was so unusual and cool and I liked Mr. Ronson's voice so very much.I first became interested in the topic of psychopathy/sociopathy when I was an undergraduate in biosocial anthropology. One of the things I found fascinating was the continued presence of what are now considered madnesses that all have a genetic component. Schizophrenia, for instance, exists in 1.1% of the population - that's a huge percentage for a genetics by environment disease. Evolutionary theory says it had to be adaptive for something, although it may not be adaptive now (much like diabetes was great if you lived in a place prone to famine, but not so great when you sit at a desk all day and eat cheeseburgers). Psychopathy is another fascinating subject. My professor at the time theorized that you could put people on a bell curve of psychopathy with the vast majority of us somewhere in the middle, another percentage towards the left tail (victims, really), and a third portion swinging towards the right end of the tail. If you got all the way to the bleeding right edge, you were probably a serial killer, but the folks upwards of that? They're everywhere - in your office, on Wall Street, where ever there are people that can be charmed and manipulated. Bob Hare, a Canadian psychiatrist, has spent years working with psychopaths and creating a 20-point checklist that seems to identify them. His book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us is a fascinating read.Mr. Ronson takes a strange and circuitous journey through the corridors of power and of madness. His wry observations of himself and others drive the book. Less a piece of research than an exploration of his own thoughts about the madness industry and who gets defined how, this is fun and funny and delightful. I'm going to have to read his other two books now because I liked this one so very much.Highly recommended!read more
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I have to admit I wanted to read this after viewing Mr. Ronson on The Daily Show. This is not a book for serious understanding of mental illness of psychopaths. What it does do is make us laugh and wonder about our own possible diagnoses and Mr Ronson's. I found I didn't want to put it down and stayed up way too late. A kind of David Sedaris meets Bill Bryson if you can imagine that!read more
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Entertaining and a surprisingly breezy read, The Psychopath Test is a somewhat rambling and ultimately non-conclusive record of an investigative journey into the mental health industry, conspiracy theories and scientology. The author meets some very interesting people -- about whom you can form your own conclusions: I was never exactly happy about Bob Hare.

I enjoyed reading it, but oddly I'm not sure I can recommend it. Looking back at it, there's not much substance, and isn't as hilariously funny as the blurb and reviews on the back would have you believe -- then again, I don't think it was a waste of time either.read more
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I bought this because I have always enjoyed the 'Jon Ronson on...' series on BBC Radio 4. One happy result of approaching the author in this way was that I could 'hear' Jon's voice through the narration as I read, which helped the natural flow. I noticed that some of the episodes and interviews related here (such as his chapter on the Madness of David Shayler) were also some of those covered in his radio series, which was fine by me - it was interesting to see them treated textually as well as aurally. Ronson's style is consciously egocentric, mildly self-deprecating and deceptively rambling - I say 'deceptively' because there is actually a carefully-considered structure which holds together the apparent meandering. All of the above I see as positive traits in this case because they allow Ronson to lace humour into even the most serious topics without being forced or inappropriate, and to narrate with an apparently effortless informality that is personable and extremely readable, as engaging as his radio presence.I learnt a lot (at least superficially) about the characteristics of psychopathy and have found myself, as the author did, analysing friends, acquaintances and family looking for the psychopaths in our midst. There seem to be a lot of them about!I'm encouraged now to read more of Jon Ronson and will report back. If you haven't yet heard his radio series give it a try - it makes for good listening.read more
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Journalist Jon Ronson's quest to answer what is a psychopath, the various classification schemes, the people diagnosed, the medical practitioners, the lay opponents and proponents. Entertaining, but the book is quite a long way to say that these things come in degrees, are context dependent and that one should be cautious with absolute statements. As in the Norwegian debate around the sanity of Anders Behring Breivik, it is striking how certain people are, especially regarding particular cases. I susepect most people are struck, like the author and myself, by the urge to start self-diagnosing when hearing about checklists for mental disorders, which underscores how everyone shares many of the traits that make up a psychopath. Scientologists for a change come off as a reasonable group, when criticizing the psychology/psychiatry professions for labeling regular conditions as diseases.read more
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I'm not sure if Jon Ronson's (isn't that a strange name? Don't you intuitively feel it should actually be Ron Johnson?) The Psychopath Test is really THAT GOOD, or if it is simply the exact antidote I needed to Pete Earley's book Crazy. I finished The Psychopath Test in about three hours - it's not very long - and was left feeling as satisfied as if I had just finished a very healthy and tasty meal. Ronson is fascinated by (you guessed it) the psychopath test, a clinical checklist of defining characteristics of a psychopathic personality, and by the uses and misuses of this checklist. Ronson's interests are far-ranging, so learning about psychopaths leads him down some pretty interesting roads: to some peculiar therapeutic byways of the sixties, for instance, or to the origins of the DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual used by therapists and psychiatrists.) Ronson is even-handed and self-aware; an entertaining feature of his book is his ongoing awareness that he (and lots of other "sane" people) occasionally display,in milder form, the very characteristics of the dangerous criminals he interviews. His chapter on the DSM-IV was particularly interesting to me, detailing as it does the absurdly random method by which these clinical criteria were produced.Ronson is no Scientologist, denying the existence of mental illness (because, as any Scientologist knows, what seems to be schizophrenia is really just dead aliens in your brain). On the contrary, he finds himself, as his knowledge increases, doing amateur diagnoses of individuals he dislikes - leaving himself (and the reader) with lots and lots of questions about the current state of diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. As he reminds us, homosexuality used to be a psychiatric disorder; and Atypical Child Disorder nearly made it into the DSM-III. What were the symptoms? Well, it's hard to say; the kids were atypical.read more
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I could not stop listening to this book, not to mention how much I brought it up in random conversations and thought about the implications! There are claims such as 1% of people are psychopaths and 5x's as many can be found leading corporations and countries as politicians. Ronson concludes the book with intriguing ideas such as how we should label semi-psychopaths and when we should or should not label children with disorders such as Bi-polar disorder.
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This book was reviewed in the SF Chronicle and featured on the Daily Show, largely based on the assertion that one in every 100 people is a psychopath (a statistic which prompted a lot of discussion between teachers of 100 or more students). I thought that the book would be about the number of psychopaths living in society, but really it was about use and misuse of mental health check-lists provided in the DSM and how people in Western culture use these lists to understand and treat mental illness. Structured around research and interviews of psychopaths, the doctors who treat them and the members of the media who exploit them, this was a captivating, thought-provoking and fast read.
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An interesting look into the world of psychology and particularly psychopaths. Ronson posits that some of our business and world leaders may have reached their pinnacles because of the character traits inherent in being a psychopath. Cool stuff if you like psychology!
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Intriguing, frightening and uncomfortably hilarious.
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i started reading this book with the wrong expectations. i thought it would be a funny (ish) piece of fiction concerning psychopathy. it turned out to be more of a written documentary (journalistic?) about madness and mad people. and while it sure was entertaining and very informative, i didn't find it quite as hilarious as the blurbs promised.i got interested in jon ronson's works because he seems to dabble with topics that are not run-of-the-mill. and his writing style seem quirky enough to register high in my fun-meter. i chose to start with this particular work of his because i've recently had a spike in my interest in pop psychiatry, the very real effects of mental challenges in real life, and psychopaths in general.the book revolves around the titular psychopath test, a checklist devised by psychologist robert hare to determine if a person is a psychopath or not. this checklist, it turns out, is used extensively as grounds for legally and/or medically detaining someone. in each chapter, ronson explores how psychopaths think and feel, how hare's checklist accurately reflects (and to some extent, predict) psychopathic behavior, how psychopathy/sanity gets morphed into different forms in each individual (aren't we all just a little bit psychopathic?), and how, in spite of advances, flawed and exploitable the field of psychiatry still is. i have 3 main beefs with the book:1. the writing jumps around too much (in time, in point of view, etc) for me to fully enjoy it. ultimately, there's this feeling that not all loose ends have been tied up nicely. having said that, i breezed through the book in record time (a record for me anyway), which is my way of admitting i probably missed a lot of the nuances of the book.2. in spite of ronson's investigation supposedly being journalistic, i felt the book was overwhelmingly one sided. the evidences, the case studies, the chapters, all seemed stacked to prove the psychopath test is accurate.there are, of course, instances through out the book that argues otherwise, that suggests our understanding of what (or who) is sane or not is tenuous at best. ronson actually seems to make the subtle point that those who administer the test have more than a taint of psychopathy themselves. but it didn't feel enough for me.at this point, i feel compelled to add that the psychopath test, in my limited experience, seem scary accurate in select circumstances.3. and this is what i cant stand the most. mr. hare contends that psychopathy can be detected but not cured. in other words, once you fail some 40-point test and get labelled a psychopath, that's it. game over. there's no hope for you and the only responsible thing that those around you can do is to condemn/commit you inside some sort of institution, for life, to protect society from you.that just feels instinctively wrong. firstly, how can a checklist define someone's life? how can a checklist end someone's life? doesn't that just sound...arrogant? psychopathic? i grant that there really are criminally insane people out there, and insane people who are very good at masking their criminal behavior. but given that even the best psychologists will admit that the mind is still full of surprises, shouldn't we have a little less faith on a checklist, specially one that carries legal repercussions?i don't profess to be an expert, but ronson puts it very nicely: the psychopath test in the wrong hands can be very dangerous.secondly... i know of people who suffers from real problems. not psychopaths (although i may know some of those as well...i might be guilty of being one myself), but i've seen and experienced their difficulties. and i must say, as little as my understanding is of psychology and life in general, it seems insulting that important matters of the mind with very real life changing effects can be (seemingly) wantonly decided by a test. that does not seem very different to putting lives at stake on the roll of a die or the toss of a coin.lastly, the book has obviously affected me enough to make me write a long rambling review on a lazy day. that, i think, makes it deserving the extra half star.
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As a Psychology major, I enjoyed this books quite a bit. The only critique I have is that some of the people and names were hard to follow or remember their connection to the story line. I would like a little more information on "Being and nothingness" as it still confuses me.
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Saw the interview on 'John Stewart', then ordered it like a cubic zirconia tennis bracelet from The Shopping Channel. I got a slow start with it. The Kindle app formatting is kinda shitty. Stray lines. Typos. I kept asking myself whether anybody checked it out beforehand. Then again, maybe they wanted it to look that way. Once I got used to this clash of esthetics, I found it a great deal of fun. Wha? A book about psychopathy fun? He doesn't just seek out the usual suspects. He talks to Bob Hare who came up with the oft used checklist to spot it. I was worried at first, that Ronson would turn out to be one of tthose 'it all comes back to me' sorts of interviewers, but he asked many of the questions I would have liked to ask. He doesn't give the impression of being thorough, but he is. So he talked with Bob Hare, which resulted in his seeing psychopaths everywhere. He visited Al Dunlap, dismantler of Sunbeam to wonder whether he might be one. "He pointed at a sculpture of four sharks encircling the planet. 'I believe in predators,' he said. 'Their spirit will enable you to succeed. Over there you've got falcons. Alligators. Alligators. More alligators. Tigers.''It's As if both Midas and also the Queen of Narnia were here,' I said, 'and the Queen of Narnia flew above a particularly fierce zoo and turned everything there to stone and then transported everything here.''What?' said Al.'Nothing,' I said.'No,' he said, 'What did you just say?'He shot me a steely, blue-eyed stare, which I found quite debilitating. "I appreciated how he took the subject out of prison where we, the still living prey can really relate to it. Of course,I liked this because it's really all about me. Without seeming to, he also gets into some searching questions about journalism and madness.
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The first non-fiction book I have read in a while and it didn't disappoint. I love Ronson's affable, easy going, self-deprecating writing style and will certainly be seeking out more of his books. The Psychopath Test offers an interesting viewpoint into psychopathy. It's incredible to think how the diagnosis rests upon tick boxing up to a list of 20 characteristics of The Hare Psychopathy Checklist (the diagnostic tool used to rate a person's psychopathic or antisocial tendencies). In all honesty most of us would be able to at least tick a couple of tendencies on the list however, prior to its' introduction diagnosis was even more subjective.The theme running through the book is the investigation into the possibility of how certain people in positions of power may actually be psychopaths or at least have psychopathic tendencies. When we imagine a psychopath we are probably thinking about someone who has killed or physically hurt someone. Rostron poses the theory that there are psychopaths who walk among us and may work with us, who are focused on power and leadership and making their way in the world through manipulation, domination and control. They may be in high powered jobs and essentially do not care about what they are doing to other people and society. This is a scary thought and I ended up thinking of leaders and managers who could fit into the boxes of the Hare test....Goodness me! Imagine a country or multi-national company being run by a psychopathic leader, your own boss being a psychopath!? I'm sure it isn't beyond the realms of possibility. It's certainly an interesting viewpoint and whilst I don't think we can start to put all the ills of the world down to psychopathic managers and leaders it certainly made me think and look at the world with different eyes. If this is indeed the case it is comforting to know that there really is sod all I can do about it and so I need to create a life in my own bubble seeking to find the switch to 'blissful ignorance' and turning it to the 'on' position...
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A fast, light read with an engaging tone and a muddled thesis. Like others, I do wish there had been more science in this pop-science book, but it did give me the idea to take the actual 20-question psychopath test and compare it with some romances I've read, especially the old-school rapey ones, with the question Is the hero an ass-hat or a psychopathic ass-hat?"
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Sort of interesting, but a little too much about Jon Ronson and his supposedly endearing nebbishy ways. I was kind of into it in his last book, but now it's a bit tiresome.
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You gotta respect a writer who, in a mansion full of creepy statuary as the invited guest of Mr. & Mrs. Albert Duncan, has the nerve to ask Mr. Duncan if "Chainsaw Al" is a psychopath.The interview with "Toto" is a jaw-dropper and should be so for any American citizen with the brains to connect a few dots. Introspection throughout is both side-splitting and priceless.Another wild ride from Jon Ronson -- if you got the nerve to stay in the car.
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Just a few years back, globetrotting journalist Jon Ronson was caught up in praise for his work, The Men Who Stare At Goats, which explored a secretive army experiment that sought to train soldiers in psychic warfare, but really exposed light-hearted idiocy of just one of the many hare-brained schemes to come out of U.S. government toward defeating our ‘enemies’. Now, Ronson is back to explore another segment of society, the psychopath.A brisk read that’s over all too quickly, The Psychopath Test is less about hard conclusions about the kind of people that rise to power by stepping on the heads of others and more about Ronson’s personal journey, beginning to end, of how the concept of psychopaths was introduced to him and how he went about his research. The book starts with a puzzle. A book called Being or Nothingness that has been mysteriously circulated to major academicians around the world. Quickly developing a list of bit players that are suspects, the ensuing adventure leads Ronson to conclude that the author of Being or Nothingness fits the description of the topic he is about to embark, a psychopath.Ronson’s style flits from psychiatry, to Scientology anti-psychiatrists, to Bob Hare, developer of the modern checklist of the psychopath test, to a facility in Broodmoor where an inmate named Tony has been kept under guard for over 10 years, and eventually to a former CEO of the Sunbeam company, who, back when toasters were being churned out in US factories, fired tens of thousands of employees without so much as breaking a sweat.The resulting text is one that doesn’t so much dwell on hard questions about modern psychiatry practices but rather indulges Ronson’s newfound ‘ability’ to spot psychopaths as he rattles off checklist questions that could pertain to certain personalities (lack of empathy; grandiose sense of self-worth). But what is a psychopath? Apart from the imagery a connotation with the word ‘psycho’ drudges up, it is simply a person who can’t experience emotions…at all. Think Dennis from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It isn’t merely a lack of empathy…it’s that the psychopath can’t imagine what it would be like to have it. Imagine if you were born blind…the concept of red just wouldn’t translate into anything meaningful. For psychopaths, emotion is just a weakness, something to be shrugged off or used as a tool in manipulating others.One of the problems facing Ronson is after he attends a weekend seminar by Bob Hare, creator of the Hare Checklist, a group of questions in which, if one scores high enough (over 30), could get you locked up for the rest of your life, Ronson becomes almost psychopathic himself (a tendency he’s all to ready to admit on the part of being a journalist) in trying to break down others’ personalities to conform to the Hare checklist. Is Tony, an inmate who’s been locked away since age 17 who chose to fake mental illness to avoid prison time (inadvertently leading him to the Broodmoor institution in a catch-22 situation), really a psychopath or just someone caught up in the system forever attempting to prove his saneness? Are certain CEOs or people in powerful positions secretly disguising their own psychopathic tendencies to maintain some sense of normalcy?These questions and others are brought up in frantic fashion but never delved into a way that lends credence to exactly how to deal with people of this nature. By the time Ronson brings up the possibility of Wall Street financial honchos possessing these character qualities and the wide-reaching implications, the book’s narrative trip is nearly at a close and remains just a footnote to the overarching question of how DSM illnesses are conceived and diagnosed by specialists. This tumbles into digressions on the modern sense of what most regard as a ‘Prozac Nation’ and an overreaching sense of duty to medicate kids improperly labeled as Bi-Polar or Autistic, when really parents are just tired of trying. What remains with the reader are several tools for diagnosing psychopaths should they ever suspect someone in their circle (apparently they make up 1% of the world population) and a brief history of psychiatry from the LSD-fueled trips of the 60’s and 70’s (which, although, in an attempt to help psychopaths overcome their illness, actually churned out more repeat offenders than if they had merely sent them to a jail for a few years) to the refining of the Bob Hare checklist. So then, are psychopaths secretly ruling the world? Is there a secretive influence to their behavior that has shaped our history in the mold of their mind’s creation? Can’t say definitively, but as a guidebook The Psychopath Test at least gets the discussion going.
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Those of you who've already read John Ronson probably know what to expect from "The Psychopath Test": our game, affable narrator sallies forth into the world to interview its strangest, most dangerous inhabitants. He meets a few ringers this time out, too, including a Haitian death squad leader and a man whose diagnosis of psychopathology has gotten him condemned to England's infamous Broadmoor prison. We also meet Al Dunlap, the notorious job-cutter, who proves to be a fantastically unselfconscious capitalist caricature almost too real for reportage. It's all the usual good fun, but the book takes an unexpected, and unexpectedly thoughtful, turn in its last chapters. The author halts the parade of human oddities and meditates instead on the social uses of madness and asks whether any test, even one as well designed as Robert Hare's psychopath test, can accurately classify the entire range of human experience. "The Psychopath Test" is a light and breezy take on its deadly serious subject, but it's recommended.
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Who knew that exploring the world of psychopaths could be so entertaining and funny? The author takes a course on administering the Psychopath Checklist and finds himself ticking items on the list, not only when interviewing CEOs and inmates of prisons and asylums, but on the experts and himself. Don’t miss this fascinating, fast-paced look at the complex world of madness.
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Took me a while to get through this. The concept and premise were very interesting, but Ronson seemed jump around a bit. He would finish up one of the sub-stories, but didn't seem to have a smooth transition. He would tie in some pieces later which helped. To be fair, I think part of my review had to do with my spotty reading and finishing of this book.
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This was an incredibly quick read. The writing is engaging and interesting and even funny at times. Ronson takes you on a little journey with him as he investigates the idea of psychopathy in its various manefestations. It's not particularly groundbreaking, and I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already picked up elsewhere, but it had a personal feel to it--this was a book by a real person about real people.

Ultimately, I wanted it to end on more of a revelation about what a psychopath actually is, but Ronson never really comes down one way or another about what he thinks it is; never endorses one point of view or another, so it was a little unsatisfying in that respect.
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Well by now, really you should know what to expect from Jon Ronson. Something light, fluffy, temporarily engaging but ultimately a snack. The non expert view on complex topics. Amusing, superficial, but with its heart ultimately in the right place. Questions asked, but not really answered, as really, they can't be answered. This time Ronson romps through the world of mental illness and its diagnostic frameworks and a disturbing place it is too. But amongst the madness is a serious point to be made. Can you decode psychopathy, or a whole range of other disorders, from a test? Are a whole range of mental disorders really disorders at all, or just eccentricity? Should we be treating eccentricity? Should we be trying to normalise all behaviour? And if psychopathy does exist, do business leaders suffer from it ? (A: Yep, probably. Most of them)It will keep you laughing but you probably wont think about it too much more after you finish it
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Clever, entertaining, and with just the right amount of skepticism. I enjoyed this immensely.
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How many psychopathic traits do you possess? Any one reading this book can't help but to reflect on 1, how they would do on the test & 2, how many of the people they know or encounter everyday would not pass the test. Mr. Ronson's writing style keeps this book moving along with little chance of boredom. I personally loved each interview he had with a certified psychopath. Quite interesting they would be so candid & agreeable to his questioning, even while raising their eyebrows at some. I guess that;s the Gradiose trait???
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Consistenly interesting, frequently bizarre, and often amusing.
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This was a quick and enjoyable read mainly because the author has a quirky sense of humour about the subject and himself. Ronson raised some valid points about the link between psychiatry and the drug companies; especially when it comes to the diagnoses of child hood disorders. I found his description of a mishandled profiling case in the UK years ago disturbing; a reminder of how easy it can be to rationalize behaviour when we live in our own little bubbles. In fact, his discussions with both experts and psychopaths were not that different; each saw the world from their own perspective. Ironically, Ronson found that psychopaths intensely study those around them, just as psychologists and psychiatrists do. Struck me that the only difference between the two forms of 'study' being that psychopaths admit they do it because it makes manipulating others easier; none of his experts admitted to the same.
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This has to be one of the books that I brought up in conversation more than any other while I was reading it. I learned that you want be careful how you bring this topic up though, otherwise you might risk offending people. They’ll think that you’re implying that they’re psychopaths.You know, like when you mention something like “Hey psychopaths don’t dream very often.” Then thoughtlessly add, “That’s funny, you don’t dream very often.”And nothing wins you brownie points like saying, “You know that relative of yours? After reading this book I’ve noticed they show some traits of a psychopath.”The good news for hypochondriacs though? Evidently if you are worried about being a psychopath then you aren’t one. Good to know, huh?Seriously though, this book was informative, interesting and a little bit scary. It wasn’t just filled with facts (like how there’s a much higher percentage of psychopaths in important corporate positions than in the general public), there were also intimidating tidbits (like how the recidivism rate actually went up for psychopaths who were treated with therapy).And of course there was the actual checklist test. I’m pretty sure I was driving my husband crazy by pointing out psychopathic traits of characters on the TV and in movies. I’m very surprised that my summation of Voldemort’s psychopathic characteristics didn’t earn me an eye-roll.If you like to analyze the people around you then you will have a lot of fun with this book. There isn’t an abundance of scientific information here. It is more a tale of the author’s quest to find out what makes a person a psychopath, and of the interesting people he met along the way.
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This was one of the books I purchased based on his talk at TED this year. You may have heard about one of Ronson’s previous books, The Men Who Stare at Goats. He seems to like examining people outside of the ordinary. The Psychopath Test is an enjoyable read that definitely makes you question psychology. I would recommend this book if you are interested in the meaning of psychosis or wonder about what it really means to be psychotic.
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While Jon Ronson has previously paid tribute to men who stare at goats, he's now giving all those madmen out there a scrutinizing look in his book The Psychopath Test, almost single-handedly solving the puzzle of a mysterious book and the person behind it.I must admit that before I started reading, and even throughout the first chapter, I thought this book was riding mostly on the humorous wave, yet it turned out to be wonderfully entertaining and self deprecating, while at the same time taking a smart and serious look at what psychopaths are made of. Jon skilfully eases into the subject taking the reader on a journey through the madness industry. Not just observing, he inevitably finds himself doing amateur diagnosis of those around him, and he does not spare himself either.One has to wonder about that fine line that separates crazy from normal. Why do some people end up in a mental institution despite appearing to be perfectly normal folks? Or what about high achievers who show scarily many traits that fit into the scheme of "psychopaths"? Do the mad know they are mad? Could it be possible, just how Scientologists believe, that there is no such thing as mental illness?This book won't give easy answers to any of these questions, instead it tries to make sense, sometimes doubting then believing, but most of all making you rethink your own preconceptions and knowledge.In short: A fascinating topic - a wild, mad read!
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When I started reading this book I realized that I'd listened to Mr. Ronson read an early version of a part of this on This American Life, one of my favorite public radio programs. I actually listened to the story several times because it was so unusual and cool and I liked Mr. Ronson's voice so very much.I first became interested in the topic of psychopathy/sociopathy when I was an undergraduate in biosocial anthropology. One of the things I found fascinating was the continued presence of what are now considered madnesses that all have a genetic component. Schizophrenia, for instance, exists in 1.1% of the population - that's a huge percentage for a genetics by environment disease. Evolutionary theory says it had to be adaptive for something, although it may not be adaptive now (much like diabetes was great if you lived in a place prone to famine, but not so great when you sit at a desk all day and eat cheeseburgers). Psychopathy is another fascinating subject. My professor at the time theorized that you could put people on a bell curve of psychopathy with the vast majority of us somewhere in the middle, another percentage towards the left tail (victims, really), and a third portion swinging towards the right end of the tail. If you got all the way to the bleeding right edge, you were probably a serial killer, but the folks upwards of that? They're everywhere - in your office, on Wall Street, where ever there are people that can be charmed and manipulated. Bob Hare, a Canadian psychiatrist, has spent years working with psychopaths and creating a 20-point checklist that seems to identify them. His book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us is a fascinating read.Mr. Ronson takes a strange and circuitous journey through the corridors of power and of madness. His wry observations of himself and others drive the book. Less a piece of research than an exploration of his own thoughts about the madness industry and who gets defined how, this is fun and funny and delightful. I'm going to have to read his other two books now because I liked this one so very much.Highly recommended!
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I have to admit I wanted to read this after viewing Mr. Ronson on The Daily Show. This is not a book for serious understanding of mental illness of psychopaths. What it does do is make us laugh and wonder about our own possible diagnoses and Mr Ronson's. I found I didn't want to put it down and stayed up way too late. A kind of David Sedaris meets Bill Bryson if you can imagine that!
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Entertaining and a surprisingly breezy read, The Psychopath Test is a somewhat rambling and ultimately non-conclusive record of an investigative journey into the mental health industry, conspiracy theories and scientology. The author meets some very interesting people -- about whom you can form your own conclusions: I was never exactly happy about Bob Hare.

I enjoyed reading it, but oddly I'm not sure I can recommend it. Looking back at it, there's not much substance, and isn't as hilariously funny as the blurb and reviews on the back would have you believe -- then again, I don't think it was a waste of time either.
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I bought this because I have always enjoyed the 'Jon Ronson on...' series on BBC Radio 4. One happy result of approaching the author in this way was that I could 'hear' Jon's voice through the narration as I read, which helped the natural flow. I noticed that some of the episodes and interviews related here (such as his chapter on the Madness of David Shayler) were also some of those covered in his radio series, which was fine by me - it was interesting to see them treated textually as well as aurally. Ronson's style is consciously egocentric, mildly self-deprecating and deceptively rambling - I say 'deceptively' because there is actually a carefully-considered structure which holds together the apparent meandering. All of the above I see as positive traits in this case because they allow Ronson to lace humour into even the most serious topics without being forced or inappropriate, and to narrate with an apparently effortless informality that is personable and extremely readable, as engaging as his radio presence.I learnt a lot (at least superficially) about the characteristics of psychopathy and have found myself, as the author did, analysing friends, acquaintances and family looking for the psychopaths in our midst. There seem to be a lot of them about!I'm encouraged now to read more of Jon Ronson and will report back. If you haven't yet heard his radio series give it a try - it makes for good listening.
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Journalist Jon Ronson's quest to answer what is a psychopath, the various classification schemes, the people diagnosed, the medical practitioners, the lay opponents and proponents. Entertaining, but the book is quite a long way to say that these things come in degrees, are context dependent and that one should be cautious with absolute statements. As in the Norwegian debate around the sanity of Anders Behring Breivik, it is striking how certain people are, especially regarding particular cases. I susepect most people are struck, like the author and myself, by the urge to start self-diagnosing when hearing about checklists for mental disorders, which underscores how everyone shares many of the traits that make up a psychopath. Scientologists for a change come off as a reasonable group, when criticizing the psychology/psychiatry professions for labeling regular conditions as diseases.
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I'm not sure if Jon Ronson's (isn't that a strange name? Don't you intuitively feel it should actually be Ron Johnson?) The Psychopath Test is really THAT GOOD, or if it is simply the exact antidote I needed to Pete Earley's book Crazy. I finished The Psychopath Test in about three hours - it's not very long - and was left feeling as satisfied as if I had just finished a very healthy and tasty meal. Ronson is fascinated by (you guessed it) the psychopath test, a clinical checklist of defining characteristics of a psychopathic personality, and by the uses and misuses of this checklist. Ronson's interests are far-ranging, so learning about psychopaths leads him down some pretty interesting roads: to some peculiar therapeutic byways of the sixties, for instance, or to the origins of the DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual used by therapists and psychiatrists.) Ronson is even-handed and self-aware; an entertaining feature of his book is his ongoing awareness that he (and lots of other "sane" people) occasionally display,in milder form, the very characteristics of the dangerous criminals he interviews. His chapter on the DSM-IV was particularly interesting to me, detailing as it does the absurdly random method by which these clinical criteria were produced.Ronson is no Scientologist, denying the existence of mental illness (because, as any Scientologist knows, what seems to be schizophrenia is really just dead aliens in your brain). On the contrary, he finds himself, as his knowledge increases, doing amateur diagnoses of individuals he dislikes - leaving himself (and the reader) with lots and lots of questions about the current state of diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. As he reminds us, homosexuality used to be a psychiatric disorder; and Atypical Child Disorder nearly made it into the DSM-III. What were the symptoms? Well, it's hard to say; the kids were atypical.
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