Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry – Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry – Jon Ronson

When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world's top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he's sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath—a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fueled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.

Review: It starts with a hoax. Journalist Jon Ronson is drawn into a stranger-than-fiction puzzle that was created by a madman. This weird puzzle has disrupted the lives of several of the world’s top scientists, who were willingly—or unwillingly—drawn into solving it. As Ronson attempts to track down the puzzle’s creator, he starts to wonder about mental illness. Can one person’s mental illness destroy the world? This question leads him down a winding road to studying psychopaths.

“Suddenly, madness was everywhere, and I was determined to learn about the impact it had on the way society evolves. I've always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn't? What if it is built on insanity?” – The Psychopath Test

This book is Ronson’s strange and fast-paced journey through the madness industry. He learns how psychopaths are diagnosed, and then he sets out to find some. He meets Scientologists who insist that mental illness doesn’t exist, a man who (supposedly) faked being a psychopath, a mass murderer, a 7/7 conspiracy theorist, and a CEO who enjoys destroying his employees’ lives. Along the way, he explores the various methods that psychologist have used to treat psychopaths, and uncovers the not-so-scientific history of diagnosing mental problems.

Earlier this year, I read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and loved it. I didn’t like this book quite as much as that one, but this one is still really good. It’s definitely not dry nonfiction because the author is kind of hilarious. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor that I appreciate. I laughed when he got a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and promptly diagnosed himself with a bunch of disorders. Then he freaked out a little. Honestly, I probably would have done the same thing if I had access to that book. That’s why I have to stay far away from WebMD.

“I closed the manual. ‘I wonder if I’ve got any of the 374 mental disorders,’ I thought. I opened the manual again. And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.” – The Psychopath Test

This book covers a lot of ground. It jumps around from subject to subject. That jumpiness makes it fast-paced and intensely readable, but I wish it had gone more in-depth on some subjects. I especially wanted to know more about psychopaths in the political and business worlds. I guess that’s why the bibliography exists. I can track down some of the books that the author read for research.

This is an entertaining introduction to the subject of psychopaths. I really liked both of the Jon Ronson books I’ve read so far. They’re clever and focus on subjects that interest me. I’ll happily read more of his work.

“Oh, you know what bloggers are like, they write and write and write. I don't know why, because they're not being paid.” – The Psychopath Test

Fun Facts About Psychopaths And The Madness Industry

1. In the 1850s, an American doctor identified a mental disorder that he called drapetomania. It only occurred in slaves. The only symptom was “the desire to run away from slavery.”

2. The author interviewed a reality show casting director who only puts mentally ill people on her shows. Mentally unstable people provide the drama that reality show producers want.

“Practically every prime-time program is populated by people who are just the right sort of mad, and I now knew what the formula was. The right sort of mad are people who are a bit madder than we fear we're becoming, and in a recognizable way. We might be anxious but we aren't as anxious as they are. We might be paranoid but we aren't as paranoid as they are. We are entertained by them, and comforted that we're not as mad as they are.” – The Psychopath Test

3. A doctor tried to cure psychopaths by locking them in a room together and giving them LSD. It didn’t end well.

4. Psychopaths are extremely rare, but they seem to be drawn to politics and business. There are a disproportionate number of psychopaths working in those fields.

“I wondered if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.” – The Psychopath Test

TL;DR: Are you curious about psychopaths? Read this book.


  1. I think I need to re-read this one! I remember reading it ages ago and not being that into it, but I was also pretty young and you make it sound so interesting! I actually own a copy (through weird circumstance), so I'll have to pick it up again. I'm really glad to see that you enjoyed it overall, and great review.

  2. Oh, I'm glad to see you liked it! I've had this book on my TBR for a long, I don't even remember how it got there haha

    1. Haha, that happens to me all the time. I swear the books breed when I’m not looking.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. I had this book out from the library once.. I had to give t back before i was done with it.. I will have to check it out again!

  4. I've always felt that I was part psychopath...!

  5. omg a doctor identified "the desire to run away from slavery.” as a mental disorder???

  6. Terrific review! I definitely want to read some of his stuff now. Psychopathy terrified me though, honestly. I also like your TL;DR section you've added.

    1. Thank you! If you don’t like psychopaths but want to read a Jon Ronson book, you should read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I liked that book more than this one.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  7. This book sounds like a trip! I actually had to look it up to figure out if it was fiction or not! The first paragraph about the puzzle reminds me of House of Leaves (which I have yet to commit to reading). I've never heard of this author, but I definitely might be checking this book out!

  8. Wow. This must have been such an eye-opening read. And I am horrified at number2 on your list.

  9. I thought this looked familiar - I read it a couple of years ago. Fascinating exploration of the subject. An much better than his The Men Who Stare At Goats which just baffled me!

    Stephanie Jane @ Literary Flits

  10. I have this upstairs (context: I'm sat in my living room) but I've been hesitant to read it because:

    a) some people think it's ableist against psychopaths (though I'm not entirely sure psychopaths would care,)

    and b) The Bestie did a psychology degree with a professor who really didn't like this book (though that may just've been snobbery!)

    My curiosity won't hold out much longer, I'm sure! ;)

    Also, that blogger quote though!!!! XD