“What if society wasn’t fundamentally rational, but was motivated by insanity? This thought sets Jon Ronson on an utterly compelling adventure into the world of madness.
Along the way, Jon meets psychopaths, those whose lives have been touched by madness and those whose job it is to diagnose it, including the influential psychologist who developed the Psychopath Test, from whom Jon learns the art of psychopath-spotting. A skill which seemingly reveals that madness could indeed be at the heart of everything.”
The Psychopath Test – A Journey Through the Madness Industry is a non-fiction book, written by the Welsh journalist Jon Ronson. The book features interviews, thoughts and people that Ronson came across during his journey of learning about psychopaths and how to spot them using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
As I rarely come across this type of journalistic non-fiction in my home library, I have to admit that I didn’t have any expectations to go from when reading this book – or when reviewing it.
However, I can say that I enjoyed it a lot, as it was both an informative and at times suspenseful read.
Coming from a background of lots and lots of school books, I have gotten used to how non-fiction is often written dryly, only including facts and no emotion. Usually, I actually enjoy objective literature, as it gives room for me to make my own opinions. However, the first thing I noticed in The Psychopath Test was how alive, Ronson narrates his actions and experiences. It felt like I was reading fiction, but the names, events and locations mentioned were very much real. To my surprise, I greatly enjoyed this way of narrating non-fiction, as it made otherwise mundane people and interviews more exciting with Ronson narrating them like events of a story.
The most obvious way that Ronson does this is by pulling himself into the story. He is not just a journalist, but a man, who becomes friends and enemies with the people he meets. Ronson becomes the protagonist of the book, and this personal inclusion of himself is what I loved the most about it.
Another interesting feature was one, I only realized had been there, as I was reading the second half of the book. Throughout the narrative, Ronson includes tiny paragraphs of reflection on what he learns about psychopaths, but more so on what he realizes about himself and society. He constantly finds psychopathic traits in himself and the people around him, and thereby starts to question the idea of self-diagnosis and putting people into certain boxes. It is interesting how Ronson, as he gains more knowledge through books and interviews on psychopathic behavior, becomes increasingly doubtful of his own mental state.
While I didn’t find the book as hilarious as the reviews on the cover promised, I did find it extremely entertaining (and sympathetic even) how Ronson includes his own bad sides, bad quotes and naive opinions in the narrative. He does not try to sugar coat his own personality or interviewing skills. He portrays his flaws to the audience, and this makes him seem human and likeable. And he probably narrated it like that, because he knows this. (Could that be a sign of Item 5 on Hare’s checklist: Cunning/manipulative?)
I wasn’t quite sure where the book was heading, as I was reading it. However, I found that this was okay, because the narration was so enthralling. Ronson was able to show both good and bad sides of the people he interviewed, which made them more realistic, while also adding suspense. On an end note, I would like to mention how I found Ronson’s small paragraphs of meta comments incredibly fun and quirky.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (English), 292 pages, Picador