With tantalizing mentions of death squad leaders, legendary CEOs and serial killers, The Psychopath Test’s synopsis seems to promise a strong, tight narrative geared toward building a surprising and definitive conclusion about psychopaths and the industry that deals with them, and at times this seems to be the book Jon Ronson thought he was going to write. I was fully prepared to be convinced sociopaths controlled the corporate and government reigns of power, that the world was the chessboard of madmen. As it turns out, this is not that book.
It is important to be clear about what this book really is. It is not a book about psychopathy or the madness industry. It is a book about the author’s exploration of psychopathy and the madness industry. It is about the journey, not the destination. This is driven, largely, by two narrative devices: first, Ronson’s involvement with the mystery surrounding an odd book mailed to academics; second, the author’s obtaining and employment of the PCL-R Checklist, which is used to diagnose psychopaths. In this framework, we meet the previously promised death squad leader, CEO, and serial killers, as well as Scientologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and television professionals.
Ronson spends most of the book in episodic encounters with disparate factions, coming away from each with less of a clear answer to any question he has. Along the way he is briefly seduced by the power of the PCL-R Checklist’s promise of the ability to ferret out hidden sociopaths, meets a man who may or may not have been institutionalized for pretending to be a psychopath, and comes to some depressing conclusions about his own profession.
By the end of the book I felt as if I’d learned a host of things, new trivia, but like the author, had not come any closer to strengthening my worldview.
The Psychopath Test is always enjoyable, at times disturbing, and quite often funny. It should be of interest to anyone who comfortable with a healthy dose of ambivalence.