The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson sees insanity all around him. Partially that is because as a journalist he is drawn to write stories in which people engage in erratic behavior. It is also because he has learned The Psychopath Test, and he cannot stop administering the 20-point checklist to everyone around him.

Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm

Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth

Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

Item 4: Pathological lying

And, so on. From a rude concierge at a hotel to the CEO of a giant corporation, no matter where Ronson looks, everything's coming up psycho.

Ronson finds himself slowly sucked into the madness industry thanks to a succession of events. He comes across a impossible-to-solve puzzle book being sent to the greatest minds in academia. Perhaps the puzzle is impossible because it is not a puzzle at all.

He picks up the American Psychiatric Association's handbook, known as the DSM IV, and diagnoses himself with a dozen of the 374 mental disorders contained within. 

Then Ronson meets Tony, a polite young man who made the mistake of pleading insanity after beating someone up as a teenager. Twelve years later, Tony is still being held in the most dangerous wing of a detention center with little hope of being released. The situation is laughably frightening. You can't simply say "Look how sane I'm acting now." The warden, when asked, admits that Tony is not mentally ill "but suffers from psychopathy." Psychopathy is a strange blend of manipulative behavior, hubris, and severe emotional detachment in relation to others. 

These events lead to Ronson attempting to understand psychopathy, discovering radical, often unsuccessful, treatments for such behavior, and learning the test himself. He holds the hypothesis that although many psychopaths commit violent crimes and go to prison, there are just as many who become titans of business and politics. Their ruthless, unemotional behavior is rewarded in those worlds.

So our intrepid reporter sets out to put people to the test. Al Dunlap, a former CEO of Sunbeam Products, seems like a perfect choice. He may have not violently murdered anyone, but axing thousands of employees without the slightest hesitation must be worth something. Right?

Unfortunately, poor Ronson finds himself unable to stop testing people. "I suppose it probably isn't a great idea for a man like me who suffers from excessive anxiety to chase after people with a pathological deficit of anxiety." Good luck, sir.

This is not the first time Ronson has dealt with strange behavior. He is known for the military expose The Men Who Stare At Goats, which investigated a covert operation of mentally-gifted soldiers trying to achieve invisibility and hooved animal slaughter using only their minds. It was made into a movie of the same name.

The Psychopath Test is that rare mix of hilarious and depressing that you thought only existed in the imaginations of Vonnegut and DeLillo. It is not for the faint of heart, but neither is it for the faint of mind. Will you be able to handle it? Take the test and see.