Tales of a City Girl

Jon Ronson – The Psychopath Test

How much of the world really is poisoned by psychopaths?  Everyone likes to think that the world we move in can be broken down rationally.  But we all know it can’t be.  There is enough baffling cruelty going on in the world to know that isn’t the case. But what if the reason it can’t be rational is because of psychopaths?

It’s an unsettling question and one that journalist Jon Ronson seeks to find an answer to in this book, talking to those whose life has been touched by madness and those who try to diagnose it, to try and find some definition. What is a psychopath; what makes them that way and how can we spot them?

The type of psychopath you that would most readily come to mind are killers, insidiously scuttling through the arteries of society , the ones that have skipped the empathy gene.

Jon goes to speak to Bob Hare, a clinical psychologist who came up with the PCL – R checklist, a list of characteristics he believes makes up a psychopath.

These include superficial charm; a grandiose sense of self-worth; manipulation and impulsivity. The spark of the book is as Jon theorises about the world economy and our thought leaders – how many of them have these characteristics? How many are psychopaths?

What makes this book particularly interesting though is that it’s a topic that can’t be packaged up with all the loose ends neatly tied. Matters of the brain rarely can be.

On his journey, Jon comes across stories where people have been misinterpreted, with devastating consequences,  including the man accused of being a serial killer by a criminal profiler – while the real killer was free to kill again.

He also interviews the TV researcher who was tasked with finding people for a chat show just ‘the right kind of madness’ – prone to fighting but unlikely to have suicidal thoughts.

If you’re interested in matters of  the brain, this is a great book to read.

Number of stars – 4

Image attribution: Gwydion M. Williams, Flickr