Can I just start of by saying that I love Jon Ronson? It’s something you should know. I mostly know him through his appearances on This American Life, the CBC and BBC, and his TED talk. The Psychopath Test is actually the first book by him that I’ve read. Not surprisingly, it was fascinating, but it wasn’t really what I expected. Based on all the media he had done when the book first came out way back in 2011, I had thought that the book was largely going to be about the Psychopath Test, its development and uses. Not so. Really, it is a series of stories dealing with either the mentally ill, psychopaths or the Psychopath Test to varying degrees. Ronson, is after all a journalist, and this appears to be an attempt to string together some marginally related stories into a book length treatment. Just over half the book is really about psychopathy, the rest is marginal.
Fortunately for Ronson, the loose framework of the book did not deter from my enjoyment of it (though I did spend the first chapter wondering how it was related to psychopathy). Ronson is a natural born story teller. Here he weaves together a wonderful narrative that includes his many anxieties, through the lens of the Psychopath Test, that he is now authorized to administer. This new power skews the way he sees people around him, especially people he is interviewing. Are they psychopaths?
Interestingly enough, the study of psychopathy has a fir bit of Can-con (that’s Canadian content) in its history. The test itself was developed by a Canadian and before that Canadians were leaders in some very controversial psychopathy research.
Who would like this book? This book is a fascinating and not too challenging read. I like my non-fiction to have a healthy dose of storytelling to it, and in that respect Ronson delivers. If you are looking for a hardcore study of psychopathy this is not it. Most if what is contained inside is anecdotal. Remember, Ronson is a journalist, not a psychologist. A more hard hitting look at psychopathy around us may be Snakes in Suits by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare. I say that not because I’ve read it, but because the authors are noted psychopathy researchers.