Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Psychopath Test: Book Review | The Small Desk

One bleak Monday morning I decided I had had enough, and that I wanted to do something more with my life. I couldn't decide between writing a novel or training to be a counsellor. Either way I thought that perhaps if I went to Waterstones at lunchtime and bought some books about the mind and thinking, then I would stop feeling so pessimistic. I thought these books could help me with inspiration for a novel or help me decide on whether or not to pursue a counselling course. I can hear my friends laughing already; I am always telling them of the next thing I might try career wise and then never do it. I'm pretty sure I've said I want to do every career under the sun!

Whilst perusing the mind, self-help and popular science shelves I came across The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I thought it looked familiar and decided that perhaps I recognised the cover from the days where I used to work in publishing and checked the Amazon Top 100 at least ten times a day! I was later reminded by a friend that she recommended it to me after I told her I was interested in research that found that people at the top of large corporate companies are often seen to be psychopaths or have psychopathic traits.

The book is relatively short at 280 odd pages long. It took me exactly a week to finish it, and I'm pretty sure that other than Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson, this is the fastest I have ever read a book!

The Psychopath Test is a journalistic novel written by the same author who wrote The Men who Stare at Goats; a book I hadn't heard of but am assured it is very famous as it was even made into a film! The Psychopath Test explores what it means to be diagnosed as a psychopath, the people who have defined the concept and those who have defined mental illness. Jon Ronson looks at the difference between what people consider as mental illness and psychopathy, and even goes so far as to search out psychopaths to diagnose himself. This description is making it sound like an academic book, but it is far from that and Ronson reminds us of that throughout. He looks at the history of using LSD to 'treat' psychopathy, nude psychotherapy sessions, and various other cases but what makes this book such a page turner is the interviews with those involved with the psychiatry sector.

Ronson interviews a business man, known for being good at firing thousands of people, amongst this former corporate executive's collection of predator artwork. Early on in the book Ronson is introduced by a scientologist to a man who claims to have faked mental illness to escape a prison sentence. Bob Hare, the man who invented THE psychopath test used by psychiatric hospitals such as Broadmoor, also heavily features in this book. If this were not enough Ronson even meets a former MI5 spy who now believes he is Jesus.

What makes this book such a fascinating read is the people he interviews. Ronson is also a brilliant writer and brings a sense of humour to what is otherwise a very dark subject. Throughout Ronson is asking the reader: how mad is too mad?


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