Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson Review


Jon Ronson goes on a mental illness odyssey in his book, The Psychopath Test, which takes in some extraordinary people and facts, and is, by turns, a funny and serious read in alternating chapters.

As always, Ronson packs a ton of enjoyably kooky characters into his books. Like the Scandinavian translator sending out mysterious manuscripts to people that pertain to something only his mind knows. Also, "Tony" the Broadmoor inmate who faked mental illness because he was told he would have an easier time inside if he were in a mental hospital instead of prison - except now he can't leave! The Scientologists are involved in Tony's case and are campaigning for his release. With “Tony”’s case, we get an insight into why Scientologists dislike psychiatrists so much.

We’re introduced to David Shayler, an ex-MI5 agent turned conspiracy theorist, who became notorious for suggesting 9/11 was faked and that missiles with holograms to make them look like planes were fired at the World Trade Center. He’s also in turn a cross dresser and believes he is the messiah returned.

The main narrative is Ronson's investigation into the idea that most CEOs and world leaders are in fact psychopaths, but I felt Ronson didn't investigate this enough. He does write a lot about Al Dunlap, a CEO of an American toaster company called Sunbeam, and while the case for Dunlap is sometimes convincing, I felt that this wasn't enough for his thesis and that he should have investigated further (there are no interviews with world leaders or other CEOs).

The more serious side to this book gives it a stronger purpose. Like Ronson looking how a formerly reputable criminal psychologist who made a suspect fit the evidence in a rape/murder only for it to be later discovered that the suspect was entirely innocent. Also profiled is a psychologist who came up with a label for every type of behaviour which contributed to numerous misdiagnoses, specifically in children with illnesses like bipolar disorder, and how the current climate of over-analysing previously acceptable behaviour as dangerous can lead to over-medicating children, in some cases fatally.

Ronson's meandering writing style is similar to his previous books which I didn't mind as it was still thoroughly readable but can obviously be annoying for some readers looking for more structure. He can take complicated cases, such as the mistaken identity of the rape/murder or the psychopath LSD experiments of the ‘60s, and make them understandable to a wider audience who aren't familiar with the circumstances.

There’s plenty to enjoy in The Psychopath Test as Ronson goes from gentle but eccentric personalities to more dangerous ones to some quite scary ones and one genuinely confusing one - I was enthralled every step of the way. Jon Ronson has written another fantastic and highly enjoyable book showcasing some very real problems with our modern world and the compelling eccentrics that populate it.

The Psychopath Test

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