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Review: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson is an accessible and relateable investigative journalist with some interesting books. Possibly his most famous, The Psychopath Test, was the one I was the most drawn to: an unassuming jaunt into the mind of the world’s most mentally ill? Yes please. Psychopathy is absurdly fascinating and I certainly don’t know enough about it. I just wish I could say I knew more after finishing this book.

Ronson writes well of his foray into the dangerous world of psychopaths, and what little information he gives us is brilliantly harrowing and educational at the same time. He tells of the Hare PCL-R Checklist, which is used to diagnose psychopathy, and the man who invented it, leading the reader to immediately start trying to diagnose every person they’ve ever met. He takes the reader with him on his visits to psychiatric hospital to meet the most dangerous people alive and leaves us to wonder how on earth anyone can truly function as they do…

“She showed him a picture of a frightened face and asked him to identify the emotion. He said he didnt know what the emotion was but it was the face people pulled just before he killed them.”

Most interesting were the experiments, the tests Ronson talks about when psychopathy was first being learned about, how the world was taken by storm by the verification of psychopathy, and even mental illness itself as Ronson leads us down a fascinating tangent on the beginnings of the DSM. That, honestly, was one of the most mind-blowing parts of the book. I knew the field of psychology was new, but to see the complete and utter shambles it is…to read about the creation of the DSM, the abuses of power…it was shocking.

“Here was the American physician Samuel Cartwright identifying in 1851 a mental disorder, drapetomania, evident only in slaves. The sole symptom was ‘the desire to run away from slavery’ and the cure was to ‘whip the devil out of them’ as a preventative measure.”

The Psychopath Test is an easy read, aside from the disturbing subject matter, and definitely recommended for very new entrants to the field. I would have loved a more in-depth view into the world of psychopathy, but for a start this was definitely enjoyable.


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