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The Psychopath Test

27 Nov

Well, I hope all you fellow Americans survived Thanksgiving. Personally, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but for some it can be stressful. Plus, now begins the countdown to the December holiday season, a time when many people want to strangle their family members, or at least roll their eyes and make exasperated faces behind their backs. Some may even think, “My family members are a bunch of psychopaths!” And maybe you’re right. But you can’t know for sure until you read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. The book isn’t really about diagnosing those around you, but it is a side effect of reading it. And you should read it. Not only because you can more accurately call people out on their psychopathic tendencies, but also because it’s fascinating.

This isn’t the US cover, but it’s the prettier one

I first heard about Jon Ronson and The Psychopath Test on Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week podcast (which I talked about here). I’m not sure if it was hearing Ms. Klausner rave about the book (both while she was reading it and after) or her later interview with the author that made me interested in the book, but I found it in my library’s ebook selection and checked it out. I was immediately drawn in my Ronson’s writing style. His writing is almost conversational, and he frequently puts himself in the center of the action as a character rather than an observer. It’s completely engrossing. I’m love nonfiction books, but I don’t really like reading three boring chapters on statistics and studies before getting to the point at page 200. The Psychopath Test drew me in immediately, and I felt like I was shadowing the author as he delved into the world of psychopaths and the treatment of mental illness. Ronson not only gives us the facts, but then shares what he’s feeling and thinking as he delves further into his research.

The Psychopath Test refers to a 20 point checklist developed by psychologist Robert Hare, that breaks down different behaviors to diagnose psychopathy. This test is commonly used in prisons and mental institutions, and includes many behaviors you may find in yourself or your loved ones. But of course, only 1% of the population are psychopaths. Whew. BUT, as Ronson discovers, 10% of the most successful leaders (CEOs, moguls, and the like) could be classified as psychopaths. Could the lack of empathy and unshakable desire for complete power that define psychopathy be what makes these people so successful? Is our economy, or our politcs, controlled by psychopaths? Ronson never makes a definitive decision, but he does interview a few powerful men (always men!) and tries to analyze their behaviors to better understand this theory.

This is the US cover. NOT AS GOOD.

That’s a small part of the book, but one I found most fascinating. My interest was also piqued by the description of some psychological studies in the 60s and 70s where researchers would give prisoners (we’re talking rapists and murders) LSD and lock them in a room, naked, to allow them to basically work through their issues and be each other’s therapists. The results, as you can imagine, were not ideal. There were some pretty bananas experiments going on during that time. It’s hard to believe, but hey, smelling salts were invented to scare blood sucking uteruses away from women’s hearts and brains, so this kind of crazy pseudoscience isn’t unprecedented.

There’s much more to the book, but this is a teaser, not a spoiler. I suggest you head to your local library or bookstore or Amazon.com and pick up a copy of this fascinating read. I’d also recommend listening to Julie Klauser’s interview with Jon Ronson, or watching his TEDTalk.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson: $10

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