We’re told that psychopaths make up 1% of our society and that, try as we might, we’re unlikely to spot them. They blend in like chameleons and manipulate us from where they stand, slowly climbing up the social ladder. But what defines psychopathy and how can we understand it? These are the questions that Jon Ronson delves into in his remarkable work The Psychopath Test. In his usual style of awkward journalism, he flits from lead to lead in an attempt to learn as much as he can about this strange, modern concept.
Events are kicked off when a strange philosophy book is brought to Ronson’s attention. He meets some slightly mad people in the process and then begins to ponder his own madnesses. Self-diagnosing he finds he’s an absolute trainwreck and asks around if there are any organisations dedicated to disproving psychiatry. That’s how he gets in touch with a Scientologist who then points him in the direction of Tony, who’s incarcerated in Broadmoor.
It’s here that psychopathy comes onto the agenda. Tony protests his innocence and, indeed, Ronson finds him charming and normal at first, but talking to the doctors at Broadmoor he finds out that Tony has been diagnosed as a psychopath: a manipulative and clever liar who feels no empathy.
Ronson becomes conflicted – on the one hand he likes Tony, but on the other, why was Tony locked up in one of the highest security prisons in the country? So he decides to delve deeper, and that’s where things become interesting. Ronson takes us on a journey through the ‘madness industry’: from the strange experimental history of psychiatry to the Bob Hare Checklist that measures psychopathy; from psychopaths at the very top of the ladder to those who were mislabeled as criminals.
It’s a thorough investigation of the various aspects of psychopathy, and Ronson approaches it with his typical sense of nervous inquisitiveness and trademark absurd humour. Enlightening one moment and hysterical the next, it’s a brilliant entry-level immersion into the topic of psychopathy and thoroughly enjoyable to boot.