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The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry | [Jon Ronson]

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues.
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Publisher's Summary

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths, teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power.

He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath. Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

©2011 Jon Ronson (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Engrossing.... This book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through 'the madness business.'" (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    David 03-14-14
    David 03-14-14 Member Since 2010

    Indiscriminate Reader

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    "Psychopaths and the crazy people who study them"

    While Jon Ronson reveals a great deal about his own neuroses in this book, he casts little light on the psychopaths he is allegedly researching, though he does give some interesting insights into the "madness industry" of psychologists who have studied, categorized, labeled, and tried to treat psychopaths, mostly without success.

    Ronson begins with a strange introduction to the field of psychology and mental illness thanks to a group of Scientologists, who chose him to "expose" the evils of psychology. Scientologists believe that all mental disorders are because of engrams accumulated from past lives or space aliens or some such thing. L. Ron Hubbard had a particular hatred of psychologists. Ronson spends a little time discussing the peculiarities of Scientology, but this book is primarily about psychopaths and what makes them tick... and what makes the people who study them tick.

    After reading The Psychopath Test, it is not hard to believe that you have to be a little bit crazy to study crazy people. (Look out for those Abnormal Psychology majors...) From the arbitrariness of what goes into the DSM (did you know that far more copies are sold to interested non-academics/non-practitioners than to mental health professionals?) to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool that's become a quick and dirty way to label someone a psychopath, to the Rosenhan Experiment, the history of psychology is filled with enough self-reinforcing bumbling and egomania to make one think the Scientologists may have a point.

    While Ronson's book is a collection of interesting anecdotes and observations, digressing into the overmedication of children, misdiagnoses of autism, and the brutality of capitalist devotion to "shareholder value," between interviews with ex-death squad leaders and allegedly psychopathic CEO Al Dunlap, it's a bit weak in its critique of science, and sheds little light on his subjects.

    Martha Stout's book The Sociopath Next Door was more illuminating. Ronson does, however, give a bit of a glimpse into the mind of a sociopath in a way that Stout only addressed abstractly: how do sociopaths/psychopaths (there is no technical difference between them) see themselves? Do they recognize that they are "broken"? Do they ever want to be cured, and can they be? (Short answer: no.)

    Ronson's interview with Al Dunlap was particularly interesting, as he actually confronted Dunlap with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and the allegations that Dunlap, according to this tool, scored high on the psychopathy scale. Dunlap proceeded to point out that every behavior presented as evidence of being a psychopath could also be interpreted as someone who has a forceful and driven personality who gets things done. True enough, there is a lot of evidence that psychopathy is an asset in positions of power, like boardrooms.

    Ronson is able to see how some of his subjects ape normal human reactions and manipulate people the way they'd handle a TV remote control, but others, like Al Dunlap, are more ambiguous. Is Dunlap really a psychopath, or just a merciless SOB? As both Stout and Ronson point out, even genuine psychopaths are rarely serial killers; most live law-abiding, respectable lives, though never out of any actual respect for the law or society.

    An interesting if somewhat meandering trip into the perilous world of diagnosing psychopaths, The Psychopath Test is not exactly a weighty, heavily-researched book, but it will be of interest to anyone who has an, ahem, clinical interest in psychopaths.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 11-02-11
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 11-02-11 Member Since 2010

    I rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.

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    "Fabulous On So Many Levels..."

    Jon Ronson is an extremely gifted writer and an extremely gifted speaker. He uses both these talents to their fullest on this project.

    Ronson does the narration himself, and since the book is written in an auto-biographical format, it makes the book feel very personal and intimate as the author takes you through the story of how he got involved in the initial inquiry that kicked off his research for this subject, and also how closely it tied in with his own personal fears regarding his own state of mind and how he processes emotions when he is worried or concerned.

    The book covers many different aspects of the mental health industry. You may end up with more questions than answers when you're done listening, but make no mistake; that's a good thing. The writer clearly didn't go into the research for this book with an agenda. He went into this project with an open, curious, smart mind, and shares all his thoughts and insights with you as he goes - not just the bits that would neatly fit together into a pretty package with a bow on top.

    A great book on a fascinating subject presented by a gifted speaker. Who could ask for more?

    25 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 02-09-13
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 02-09-13 Member Since 2010

    I love learning, teaching, and exploring!

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    "Try not to be disturbed!"

    I enjoyed listening to this book. The author's narration was very good! The content covered some of the research behind psychopathy from a journalist's perspective. I enjoyed listening about some of the science and research, but at the same time, some of the information was a little bit disturbing. Certainly, the history of psychopathic research is full of controversy!

    The first part of the book as a little bit hard to get through because it didn't seem to have anything to do with the topic. If you can get through that, the rest is interesting reading.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 11-09-12
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 11-09-12 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "Psychopaths and society, an offbeat exploration"

    "'Grandiose sense of self-worth?' I asked him. This would be a hard one for him to deny, standing as he was under an enormous oil painting of himself."

    I quite enjoyed The Psychopath Test, which combines the self-deprecating wit of its anxiety-ridden author, accounts of his interviews with several colorful individuals, and some serious ethical questions. The book begins with the story of a man named "Tony", whom Ronson meets in a mental institution. Tony is a personable, intelligent, stable-seeming guy who doesn't seem like he should be there. He faked insanity as a teenager to avoid a jail sentence for beating someone up and now the doctors won't let him out, now matter how reasonably he behaves.

    As it develops, though, Tony, while not "mad" in any sense, has been diagnosed with psychopathic tendencies. In other words, he has trouble empathizing with others, a self-aggrandizing attitude, and a charming, manipulative personality. His legal status remains in limbo not because he's thought to be dangerous, but because many dangerous people have been like him.

    As Ronson's explorations into psychopathy and its consequences unfold, we encounter some extremes of opinion. On one hand, there are those who distrust the entire psychiatric profession and accuse it of sinister motives, like Scientologists. But, not entirely giving lie to their views are the actions a group of a doctors and self-appointed criminal experts, who, with the zealousness of witch hunters, wield a questionnaire designed to ferret out psychopaths. Confusing matters further are the agendas of the media and pharmaceutical companies, and a long history of very dubious mental health diagnoses and treatment methodologies. Some of the people Ronson meets seem almost too bizarre to be real, but having worked at a company founded by someone a lot like the businessman with the oil painting of himself (and with about as many legal indictments), I know that they are.

    Though Ronson focuses a lot more on the strange fringes than on scientific rigor, I found the questions the book raises quite interesting. Should society allow those who lack empathy to roam the streets or rise to positions of power in the corporate world? If not, then who should have the power to make those decisions, and is it right for a diagnostic checklist be treated as predictive of someone's behavior? When does that sort of thing cross the line into a Minority Report-like realm?

    Normally, I prefer it when authors don’t narrate their own audiobooks, but Ronson has an amusingly wide-eyed speaking style that I liked. I plan to check out more of his work.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cliff madison, MS, United States 10-25-13
    Cliff madison, MS, United States 10-25-13 Member Since 2009

    I like scifi and urban fantasy. I don't like romance novels. If you are the same my reviews should help.

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    "A really interesting and scary concept."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, this book can give you some real insight as to why a lot of leaders in business behave the way they do. basically, the system rewards psycopathic behavior at that level hence it becomes more prevalent. I've worked for a few of the type and understanding them is a good step to avoiding or figuring out how to deal with them.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    It isn't really a charachter driven book. The one person who stands out was the CEO he interviewed that clearly had all the psycopathic traits. It really gave me a view of how those types think and what makes them tick. I'd pity them if they didn't cause so much suffering to those around them.


    Which character – as performed by Jon Ronson – was your favorite?

    This was not a character driven book. I was surprised that an author narrarated book works. Ususally this is not the case.


    If you could give The Psychopath Test a new subtitle, what would it be?

    Your boss may really be crazy.


    Any additional comments?

    This is an interesting concept and worth a listen. it will definitely make you take a second look at those in positions of authority.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    TIFFANY SMITH 01-09-12
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    "Best Author-Read Listen I've Ever Had"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Hilarious while still replete with information. Highlights the contradictions inherent in psychological diagnosis without judgement. Ronson persuades listeners oh-so-subtly by his own anxiety-ridden example to look inward as well as to look out.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Truly quirky


    What about Jon Ronson???s performance did you like?

    No one could have enacted this book's charmingly self-conscious first person narrative better than the author. Ronson was so good that my first move after I finished listening to TPT was to find out what else I could listen to narrated by Ronson. Fab accent with wonderful comedic timing delivering humor that doesn't seem the least bit out of place on a serious topic.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Kept me laughing even as it was performed to inform.


    Any additional comments?

    If the topic intrigues you, even a little, and you enjoy first person delivery of information in 'story style', (this is not a science textbook, and i'm glad) buy this book: you won't regret the listen. Listen on your way to work, and your coworkers - and most likely your boss - will seem far more interesting.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grant NANTUCKET, MA, United States 07-09-11
    Grant NANTUCKET, MA, United States 07-09-11 Member Since 2008

    caffeinated

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    "Quirky and fun"

    Ronson's words and narration are quirky to the tenth power, and his exploration of several not-wired-to-code brains is so interesting, you'd have to be crazy not to give this book five stars.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer Sicklerville, NJ, United States 04-05-13
    Jennifer Sicklerville, NJ, United States 04-05-13

    Jennifer

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    "Interesting and Often Amusing"

    Warning: This book will have you diagnosing your friends, family and acquaintances as psychopaths. Proceed with caution!

    This is my second Jon Ronson book, and it was a kick to visit with him again. This time out, he explores the madness industry, which seems a perfect fit as he is drawn to the bizarre and odd. Exploring topics such as the development and influence of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and psychopathy in the corporate world, Ronson makes a case that we are all a little bit mad … but some of us are the “right kind of mad,” others are insane (but harmless) and there are those who are almost another species altogether (the psychopath). Fascinating, rambling, informative and often very funny, The Psychopath Test is both entertaining and educational. The audiobook is narrated by Ronson himself, and his voice is a perfect fit for a book written in the first-person.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DS 01-26-13
    DS 01-26-13 Member Since 2012

    Say something about yourself!

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    "IF YOU WEREN'T CRAZY BEFORE...."

    I kept waiting for this to get serious.... and then it was over.
    Listening to this made me crazy.
    The whinny, anxious tone was not due ONLY to the reader, it was in the writing and the reader reflected that.
    I learned nothing about psychopaths that I didn't already know, and I know relatively little.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen 01-13-13
    Stephen 01-13-13
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    "The writer may be a psychopath!"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Yes, it had some interesting information I wouldn't have learned otherwise.


    Would you recommend The Psychopath Test to your friends? Why or why not?

    No, my interests are different


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    Yes, he is a good orator


    Was The Psychopath Test worth the listening time?

    Yes


    Any additional comments?

    Never really came to a point or central focus. A little discombobulated, but enjoyable. .

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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