Friday, 21 October 2011

The Psychopath Test

Title: The Psychopath Test

Author: Jon Ronson

Number of pages: 292

Started: 14 October 2011

Finished: 21October 2011

Opening words:

This is a story about madness. It begins with a curious encounter at a Costa Coffee shop in Bloomsbury, Central London.

It was the Costa where the neurologists tended to go, the University College London School of Neurology being just around the corner. And here was one now, turning onto Southampton Row, waving a little self-consciously at me. Her name was Deborah Talmi. She looked like someone who spent her days in laboratories and wasn’t used to peculiar rendezvous with journalists in cafes and finding herself at the heart of baffling mysteries. She had brought someone with her. He was a tall, unshaven, academic-looking young man. They sat down.

‘I’m Deborah,’ she said.
‘I’m Jon,’ I said.
‘I’m James,’ he said.
‘So,’ I asked. ‘Did you bring it?’

Deborah nodded. She silently slid a package across the table. I opened it and turned it over in my hands.

‘It’s quite beautiful,’ I said.

Read the first chapter here.

Plot summary:

This is a story about madness. It all starts when journalist Jon Ronson is contacted by a leading neurologist. She and several colleagues have recently received a cryptically puzzling book in the mail, and Jon is challenged to solve the mystery behind it. As he searches for the answer, Jon soon finds himself, unexpectedly, on an utterly compelling and often unbelievable adventure into the world of madness.

Jon meets a Broadmoor inmate who swears he faked a mental disorder to get a lighter sentence but is now stuck there, with nobody believing he’s sane. He meets some of the people who catalogue mental illness, and those who vehemently oppose them. He meets the influential psychologist who developed the industry standard Psychopath Test and who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are in fact psychopaths. Jon learns from him how to ferret out these high-flying psychopaths and, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, heads into the corridors of power...

Find out more about the book here.

What I thought:

I was interested to see what this book had to say about psychopathy. I knew it wasn’t an academic text, but anecdote and a form of investigative journalism can be a more accessible route into getting an understanding of such things if you are a lay reader.

The book had potential, and the tale of people such as “Ton” a prisoner in Broadmoor, was intriguing. But I did end up wondering what the purpose of this book was, and I wasn’t entirely that the author knew the answer to this question himself. The main bulk of the book was about psychopathy, but the second half of the book rather drifted from topic to topic and didn’t seem to be very coherent. There felt like there was some crow-barring of subjects into the overall premise of the book. Seeing where David Shayler has ended up is interesting, but I am not sure I necessarily saw a direct connection to the main subject. He appears to be someone suffering from some form of delusion, but not really a psychopath. Then there was a discussion about how a million children in the US are on bipolar medication. A concerning statistic and possibly based on inaccurate diagnosis, but not really relevant to the main topic. I thought the book rambled towards the end and lacked direction. An interesting read, but not a very coherent book.

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