The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test
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The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson

From the author of Them and The Men Who Stare at Goats , this is a book exploring the psychopath…This is a story about madness. It all starts when journalist Jon Ronson is contacted by a leading neurologist. She and several colleagues have recently received a cryptically puzzling book in the mail, and Jon is challenged to solve the mystery behind it. As he searches for the answer, Jon soon finds himself, unexpectedly, on an utterly compelling and often unbelievable adventure into the world of madness. Jon meets a Broadmoor inmate who swears he faked a mental disorder to get a lighter sentence but is now stuck there, with nobody believing he’s sane. He meets some of the people who catalogue mental illness, and those who vehemently oppose them. He meets the influential psychologist who developed the industry standard Psychopath Test and who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are in fact psychopaths. Jon learns from him how to ferret out these high-flying psychopaths and, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, heads into the corridors of power…Combining Jon’s trademark humour, charm and investigative incision, The Psychopath Test is a deeply honest book unearthing dangerous truths and asking serious questions about how we define normality in a world where we are increasingly judged by our maddest edges.


Jon Ronson, who penned the popular The Men Who Stare at Goats, covers similar terrain in his new book The Psychopath Test. However, rather than investigating madness at the heart of the US military’s programs, he searches for madness in the form of psychopathic personality disorder as located in various maximum-security psychiatric hospitals and private homes throughout the UK and US. Armed with the diagnostic criteria devised by renowned criminal psychologist Dr Robert Hare, Ronson sets out to ascertain whether certain notorious individuals are likely to be psychopaths.

While highly readable, early on in the book I found myself sceptical as to the merit of Ronson’s ‘investigation’. This is largely owing to his conversational writing style, the anecdotal material he relies on and the sensational aspects of the subject matter. However, this book is not intended to be a rigorously researched sociological text. Instead it is the work of a populist journalist attempting to ignite the curiosity of the layreader as to the nature of psychopathic personality disorder and the potentially detrimental effects such individuals (who lack empathy and a conscience) may have on society when given free reign in positions of power and influence.

Further into the book Ronson is careful to admit that it is all too easy to attach erroneous labels to people and that some of the diagnostic criteria are so general that they could apply to almost anyone. For example, a ‘grandiose sense of self-worth’, ‘shallow affect’, and a ‘failure to accept responsibility for own actions’ are deemed to be a few of the traits of the psychopath. Yet, in the absence of other more dangerous traits such as ‘poor behavioural controls’ for example, they could equally be used to identify the narcissistic personality which I imagine is much more prevalent in society. Worth a read.

Luisa Childs is from Readings Carlton.

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