The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath TestI’m acutely aware that the excitement I expressed and the enthusiasm with which I sought out a review copy of Jon Ronson’s forthcoming book about psychopaths might have made me appear a little, well, mentally unhinged.

So I want to say a massive thank you to the Pan Macmillan publicity team, who agreed to send me a copy and then followed up to check where said copy was when it didn’t arrive quite as quickly as I’d hoped.

I also want to say a massive thank you to those of you who dutifully received and responded to my text messages:

  • first that I’d just found out that Ronson had a new book coming out
  • second that a review copy was on its way to me
  • third that the review copy had, after days of me checking the letterbox as if it were Christmas, finally arrived, and my review reading was underway.

I first discovered Ronson via Radio National’s The Book Show, when he was in Australia to talk about his simply titled (and by simply, I mean that its one main word doesn’t often sound like a title and you have to repeat it, explain it, make sure you include the subtitle of the book) Them: Adventures With Extremists. As in extremists who believe in conspiracy theories such as that shape-shifting giant lizards rule the world. For. Real.

The Men Who Stare At GoatsIn it, and with a mix of suspended cynicism and a frank interviewing and writing style, Ronson gives the interviewees enough rope to hang themselves and us a sly wink to know that we’re in on the joke.

He also surprises us by taking the tales in unexpected directions and you find yourself not sniggering at peoples’ naïve and off-the-wall beliefs, but instead understanding how and why they believe them and how sometimes those beliefs aren’t so far-fetched at all.

I’ve blogged previously about how much I enjoyed Ronson’s books—so much so, that I’ve even broken my no re-read rule for them. I still muck up the order of his name—Jon Ronson doesn’t seem to roll off my tongue quite the same way Ron Jonson does—but his distinct, waspish English voice is embedded in my brain courtesy of his stories on Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life (if you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, stop reading immediately and go do it. Do it.).

Which is, coincidentally, where I heard the story seed of what became his forthcoming book, The Psychopath Test. Long story short, ‘Tony’ faked mental illness to avoid a prison sentence for grievous bodily harm. The plan backfired when he was determined to be a psychopath and was imprisoned in Broadmoor, a mental asylum for the baddest, most infamous psychopaths.

ThemTony quickly realised he’d made a mistake, but found that while it was easy to convince others that you’re mad, the more you try to convince them that you’re actually, in fact, sane, the madder they think you are.

Throw in some friendly local scientologists, some mysterious, cryptic packages that are being delivered to experts, interviews with Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap, famed for his slash-and-burn firing techniques to bring companies back into the black and who may or may not be a corporate psychopath, as well as a training course with the doctor who created the widely used psychopath test and, well, you’ve got a great book on your hands.

I loved The Psychopath Test—the way Ronson looks at the world both makes sense to me and turns my sense of the world on its head. So, with that in mind I won’t apologise for my overexcitement at its imminent and then subsequent arrival. Instead I’ll say read it (and read Ronson‘s back catalogue).