If you’d asked me a week ago if I knew who Jon Ronson was, I would have looked blankly at you and ignorantly guessed he was Mark Ronson’s dad. However having just finished his latest book, The Psychopath Test, in record time, I can assure you he is not responsible for bringing the one–chord wonder into this world…or his Lindsay Lohan obsessed sister.
The first chapter slowly eases you into the mysterious case of Being or Nothingness, after the author is contacted by a psychologist ready to exploit his obsession in hunting all things slightly mad. Ronson’s first investigation into the world of psychopaths here doesn’t lead to the most exciting conclusion, although it is this end that leads him to a relentless pursuit in search of two things: 1.Just how do you define a Psychopath? and 2.The dangers at hand in doing so. After all, these are people’s lives you are playing with.
At the start of this book you may wonder just why Ronson is so determined to chase psychopaths across the globe, but read a little further and you’ll wish you’d been with him. This is particularly true in the case of Tony, a man who, without giving too much away, believes he has been wrongly categorised as a psychopath. Following his arrest for assaulting a tramp, Tony is advised by fellow prisoners to play up to the notion of being a psychopath in order to be handed a more lenient sentence than the five to seven years he is facing for GBH. It goes horribly wrong for Tony who ends up in Broadmoor and is faced with having to prove to various psychotherapists that he is indeed, just a ‘normal’ bloke who lost control of his temper. This leads to the impossible question and one that will have you rapidly flicking through these pages in search of the answer- just how do you prove you are sane? Indeed Tony is a character I could easily read an entire book on (are you listening Jon Ronson?), although this is not to discredit the remaining chapters, as this title is packed with fascinating cases throughout.
Next up is our introduction to Bob Hare and one of his theories, that the concept of psychopathy is not restricted to the inside world of psychiatric institutions. In fact, Hare claims that those in senior positions at corporate companies such as CEO’s are in-fact a bit mental. Ronson picks up this thought and surmises that ruthless, manipulative characters with a lack of empathy (all traits that define a psychopath according to Hare) are the exact characteristics company directors are looking for. Ronson then begins a quest to prove that the corporate world is rife with psychopaths, which brings him to Al Dunlap, a CEO who enjoys nothing more than firing people (think George Clooney’s character from Up in the Air without the sense of guilt).
An early criticism of the book could be that Jon Ronson is a bit too eager to pigeon hole every subject he meets as a psychopath or at least as a tad mentally unhinged. However as the reader I guarantee you will also begin to display this eagerness throughout, as well in your own professional and personal life. You will think of every person you have ever met and worked with and begin to wonder to yourself “could they be a psychopath?” Upon finishing this book you may as well be carrying the Bob Hare checklist around in your back pocket, slowly ticking off your peers as mad. Perhaps this is why it is only qualified practitioners that are entrusted with this difficult task, with even the professionals seemingly getting it wrong in some cases. However this will not stop you becoming a fully qualified psychopath spotter…in your own mind at least.
The rest of the book is packed with opinions from those who defend and campaign for the releases of people they believe are wrongly imprisoned as well as a good dose of conspiracy theorists, Scientologists and professional shrinks just for good measure. Some cases will infuriate you, whilst you may sympathise with others, but make no mistake, this book will explore every emotion you possess and Ronson is fully aware of this.
The book is structured to cleverly balance the chapters from tense to light reading, rather than leading you through one hard and depressing slog of the sometimes horrific methods used to define psychopathy. The author’s witty analysis and thought process is present throughout, although some of the included stories, injustice and ludicrous opinions within its pages will anger you, whilst other cases may leave you pondering the thought – aren’t we all just a bit mad?