The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry

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by Jon Ronson

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In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into…  See more details below


In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
…[Ronson] retains his own paranormal ability to locate and befriend wing nuts of every stripe…his winning style pervades most of The Psychopath Test
—The New York Times
Lloyd Rose
Though the book has its share of sensational anecdotes, these aren’t Ronson’s primary interest. His focus is on the way in which medicine and the media reduce a personality to nothing more than “its extreme, outermost aspects.”
—The Washington Post
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Two years ago I drove the legendary Canadian psychologist Robert Hare through the Welsh countryside so he could catch his train to the airport. We saw a car crash. Someone had been thrown clean through the window. The shock of it sent my amygdala into overdrive. It shot signals of fear and distress up and down to my central nervous system like there was no tomorrow. I started swerving all over the road.

"Psychopaths would see that crash and their amygdalae would barely register a thing," said Bob.

The way he described the amygdalae of psychopaths reminded me of one of those Hubble photographs of a dead planet. My amygdala, conversely, was like one of those Hubble photographs of solar flares. I was, in my over-anxiety, the neurological opposite of a psychopath.

Then Bob said, almost to himself, “I should never have done all my research in prisons. I should have spent my time inside the Stock Exchange as well.”

I looked at Bob. “Really?” I said.

He nodded.

“But surely stock market psychopaths can’t be as bad as serial killer psychopaths,” I said.

“Serial killers ruin families,” shrugged Bob. “Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.”

This – Bob was saying – was the straightforward solution to the greatest mystery of all: why is the world so unfair? Why all that savage economic injustice, those brutal wars, the everyday corporate cruelty? The answer: psychopaths. That part of the brain that doesn’t function right. You’re standing on an escalator and you watch the people going past on the opposite escalator. If you could climb inside their brains you would see we aren’t all the same. We aren’t all good people just trying to do good. Some of us are psychopaths. And psychopaths are to blame for this brutal, misshapen society. They’re the jagged rocks thrown into the still pond.

It seemed such an extraordinary thought – almost the wild supposition of a conspiracy theorist. But Bob Hare and his fellow psychologists, who believe much the same thing, weren't conspiracy theorists. They were thoughtful and reflective and clever. Their statistic was this: a little under 1% of regular people are psychopaths, meaning an absolutely absence of empathy. 25% of the prison population are psychopaths (and are responsible for 60% of prison unrest). And nearly 4% of people at the top of the corporate tree are psychopaths. You're four times more likely to be ruled by a psychopath than you are to have one as your subordinate.

"But getting access to people like that can be difficult," Bob said. "Prisoners are easy. They like meeting researchers. It breaks up the monotony of their day. But CEOs, politicians…”  Bob looked at me. “It’s a really big story,” he said. “It’s a story that could change forever the way people see the world…”

That was the conversation that convinced me I had to journey, armed with my new psychopath-spotting abilities, into the corridors of power.

It's two years later, and my book, The Psychopath Test, is finished. The conclusion I came to is that Bob is right. Capitalism, at its most ruthless, is a physical manifestation of psychopathy. Theirs is the brain anomaly that shapes our world.

But I learned someone else – there is a terrible seductive danger in spotting psychopaths everywhere. In fact becoming a psychopath spotter turns you a little psychopathic. You start to dehumanize people, define them by their maddest edges, wedge people into the box marked psychopath. Almost every journalist I meet asks me, Is Donald Trump a psychopath? Is Dominique Strauss-Kahn? This morning I got an alarming email from a reader. She wrote, “Damn, how many people miss the point? I was just listening to Sean Hannity and he began quoting you, referencing in all seriousness the list of psycho criteria. And then he went on (in TOTAL seriousness, mind) to explain that president Obama fits the facts and qualifies. How easy it is to marginalize (and lock up) anyone who doesn't agree with us.”

I couldn't have put it better.

Jon Ronson
Publishers Weekly
In this engrossing exploration of psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat psychopathy, British journalist Ronson (whose The Men Who Stare at Goats was the basis for the 2009 movie starring George Clooney) reveals that psychopaths are more common than we'd like to think. Visiting Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, where some of Britain's worst criminal offenders are sent, Ronson discovers the difficulties of diagnosing the complex disorder when he meets one inmate who says he feigned psychopathy to get a lighter sentence, and instead has spent 12 years in Broadmoor. The psychiatric community's criteria for diagnosing psychopathy (which isn't listed in its handbook, DSM-IV) is a checklist developed by the Canadian prison psychologist Robert Hare. Using Hare's rubric, which includes "glibness," "grandiose sense of self-worth," and "lack of remorse," Ronson sets off to interview possible psychopaths, many of them in positions of power, from a former Haitian militia leader to a power-hungry CEO. Raising more questions than it answers, and far from a dry medical history lesson, this book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through "the madness business." (May)
From the Publisher
"Engrossing.... This book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through 'the madness business.'" —Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews

From the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats (2005), another readable, entertaining excursion into extreme territory.

London-based journalist Ronson delves into the realm of mental illness, traveling to the notorious British facility Broadmoor to meet "Tony," who claimed to have successfully "faked" madness—he feigned a disorder to avoid jail for a violent assault, and has been held ever since despite his protests. Psychiatrists assured Ronson that Tony was not insane, but psychopathic, a distinction that led the journalist to Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, who developed a "checklist" of personality traits to reveal psychopaths (who are by definition glib and deceptive). Ronson interviewed Hare and took his seminar. Hare contends that "psychopaths are quite incurable" due to brain abnormalities, and that his research provides the best methods for rooting them out. Hare's seminar suggests that the detached sadism and lack of empathy which criminal psychopaths demonstrate can be seen in the wider world, where they cause great harm despite being only 1 percent of the population. "Serial killers ruin families," he says. "Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies." With this notion in mind, Ronson experienced chilling encounters with a Haitian death-squad leader and with Al Dunlap, a corporate raider who took great joy in firing people. Although the book's various strands don't fully coalesce, they remain engaging; Ronson is skilled at handling disturbing subject matter and difficult interview subjects with breezy insouciance. Yet the undertones are disturbing: While society seems unable to stop true psychopaths before they inflict major damage, Ronson argues that disturbed people like Tony essentially become "nothing more than a big splurge of madness in the minds of the people who benefit from it." The author's critique of these individuals within the mental-health industry will surely attract controversy.

Bizarrely captivating look at the terrifying mental disorder of psychopathy, the difficulty of its treatment and the professional infrastructure surrounding it.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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"Engrossing.... This book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through 'the madness business.'" —-Publishers Weekly

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The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 235 reviews.
FarMillRiverFalls More than 1 year ago
This book manages to be both highly entertaining and informative at the same time, which is a difficult balancing act. Before reading this book, I had no idea that there is actually a test (checklist) that psychiatrists and mental health professionals use to determine whether or not someone is a psychopath, and the results influence decision-making as to whether (some) prisoners in mental health facilities and prisons are released back into society. Also, I think like most people, when the term psychopath was used in conversation, I thought "Silence of the Lambs", not realizing that the term does not refer exclusively to the crimially insane and murdering lot. Like most people, I probably have encountered more than one psychopath in my travels and have come away from the experience feeling like I must be the crazy one. What a relief to find out that there is an explanation for this behavior profile. If, like me, you come away from reading this with more curiosity about the subject, Robert Hare's books are a great place to follow up and learn more about the science of psychopathy, although Ronson has actually picked up on Hare's work (Without Conscience) and brought us the research from 1993 to 2011. A lot of advances in technology have been made in that time that allow scientists to "see" and study the workings of the brain, and Ronson shows us little flashes of this, all the while keeping us entertained,amused, and questioning.
Leah Spangenberg More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this fast and easy read. It's thought-provoking without being preachy. Ronson's self-depricating humor keeps the book going when it starts to get heavy.
denyel_b More than 1 year ago
As stated in the title there indeed is a psychopath test and Jon Ronson takes you along for the ride as he finds out what the test is and how its applied. This book is an eye opening experience! Through the 'crazy' of psychology, the sorted history of the DSM, the very powerful corporate psychopath, and even the theorys of Scientologists and their quest to bring down all things good and bad behind the practice of psychologists around the world. No matter your personal view it brings to light the disturbing history of science in the name of the greater good and propells you to want to search for more. Great read!
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
While reading this book I learned two things. One is that I am definitely not a psychopath. The second is that I definitely know at least one. With that said, this book was fascinating! It delves into what it means to be a psychopath on a diagnostic level and also discusses the traits that are used in everyday life. Like the fact that psychopaths have really short-term memories, which is why they can commit horrendous crimes more than once (because they don’t remember what it feels like having done it the first time). Plus, they don’t care or have remorse. The author interviews people that were highly successful, like Al “The Chainsaw” Dunlap and people that have been committed for being psychopaths that may or may not be (like Tony). The problem is that even though there is a checklist, psychopaths are very adept at faking emotions and empathy, making it extremely difficult for the average person to weed them out. I’m really looking forward to reading Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak, Robert D. Hare. My favorite line in the book basically says, “If you are reading this book and wondering whether you might be a psychopath, rest assured your are not”. So, if you care enough about being labeled as one, you aren’t one. This is comforting because I think that everyone, at some point in their lives, can ascribe at least one of the traits on the Hare’s Checklist to themselves. It’s nice to know a little bit of crazy is normal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All in all a good read. I was a little distracted by his writing style as the book seemed to hop skip around chronologically. I did find myself laughing at times and liked being able to draw my own conclusions at the end. A good interesting read for the layperson and would recommend.
garyTX More than 1 year ago
This book was less textbok, and more general in scope, than I expected. A generally good read and it was interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was an interesting look into the world of psychology and what many professionals diagnose as "crazy". I enjoyed that it was from a journalist's point of view, which gave it a different perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel was not a very quick read; however, you were able to follow the time line very easily. By the end of the novel you may wind up having more questions about humanity than you initially wanted. I recomend this novel to anyone working in the psychological field or anyone interested in the human mind.
Melanie Mino More than 1 year ago
This was interesting to read as someone who works in the mental health field. It brought to life some of the most facinating aspects of the field while asking us to reflect on how we practice as clinicians.
TLew More than 1 year ago
I thought the concepts investigated and the various personalities interviewed were incredibly intriguing. My only minor gripe was that Ronson got a little loose with his organization about 2/3 of the way through. Still not enough to keep me from giving this five stars. I'll probably read it again. Beware, there's about 5 pages that get pretty graphic, but you should already beware when you're reading a book about psycopathy.
FairyPrincessNyx More than 1 year ago
Started off kinda confusing, but all tied together and after first chapter didn't want to put it down. Makes you think ... for sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely worth reading. Jon Ronson is an excellent writer with a unique perspective on pretty much everything. I learned a lot about psychopaths and the story was very engaging, but at times got a little too focused on the author's stream of consciousness observations. Good overall though!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting book!
MrJRA More than 1 year ago
A very interesting and quick read, I found that the author did all the necessary research to make this a very informative book . Overall the book will definitely leave you wondering if someone you know is a psychopath. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think we've all encountered people in our lives who seem to enjoy hurting others. And we read about horrible, inexplicable crimes that seem to have been motivated by nothing more than meanness. The Psychopath Test goes a long way in offering an explanation for this sort of behavior. The book is fascinating and the fact that it's written by a talented writer is a bonus. A really interesting, well-written book. I wish it had been longer though.
Kristen Collinge More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I love to learn and the author presents his story in a way that allows you to come to your own conclusions. He even questions his own opinions and I found this caused me to have some self introspection. I am pretty sure that I only personally know 1 or 2 psychopaths, which is good news to me.
Willcutz More than 1 year ago
Mr. Ronson's humorous and humanistic approach to the business of madness is both alarming and enlightening. We have all heard the stories about those who are in an institution and shouldn't be and those who aren't and should be, or at least have professional help, but to see it through the eyes of a journalist illuminated the problem much more intensely for me. Though I certainly would not be assessed as a psychopath or anywhere in that spectrum, like many people, I have sought assistance and guidance for my own thinking process. I found great wisdom and tools in "Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self". As thinking is our core performance indicator, learning how to maximize the process consciously is key.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing, there in rarely something I will pick over sleep, but I couldn't put this one down!
Nena0 More than 1 year ago
I liked it.  Not recommended if you are looking for answers. It was an interesting journey through psychotherapy, diagnosis, mental illness, and society. After reading this I'm not hopeful in the science of medicine or the abilities of doctors.  Still it was interesting. I think I have more questions now than when I first picked up the book.
mgoodrich718 More than 1 year ago
The Psychopath Test By Jon Ronson 3 Stars Jon Ronson is a journalist known for his quirky investigative work. He wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats. This book all started with him being called in to solve an odd mystery that the world's renowned scientists are experiencing. This results in Jon going down the path to find out what he can about Psychopaths who and what are they? How do we know? What is the history of it in the world of psychiatry? Jon explores many avenues in this book. He speaks to Scientologist's who are totally against the study of psychiatry in general. He meets Tony, a person who is locked in a maximum security psych ward and has been for many years. Tony presents himself to people as having faked the tests to get an insanity plea and seems normal at first glance but who is he really. There are naked therapy sessions including all the LSD you could want where subjects became the therapists and the patients. That one may have backfired on the researchers. He interviews many of the most knowledgeable on the subject including the gentlemen who wrote DSM III and Bob Hare the creator of the Psychopath Test. Jon does a good job of interviewing subjects from many variations on the subject. He meets with them many times, returning after someone new has come up and new questions to answer. There were witty parts and sarcasm laced throughout. At one point Jon is invited by Bob Hare to attend training that he does for people to be able to use the Psychopath test. They consist of prison officials, psychiatrists, officers and the like. Bob Hare later critized Jon's liberal use of his knowledge after that training. Stating that did not give him the knowledge to use that the way it was intended it would take years more training. Some of the people that attended the training had no more background than Jon, I just don't believe Mr. Hare liked that particular light shed on it. It questioned the validity of the test because after it Jon would run through the test in his mind when he met with people. I did not see the validity of Mr. Hare's angst over the book. It's sort of the same thing that happens when people go on the internet and self-diagnose medical conditions. I don't think Mr. Ronson was saying that that course made him qualified to do diagnose people but you certainly can't resist it when you know what the symptons are.
_Rah_ More than 1 year ago
A friend had recommended Ronson before, then after another tragic school shooting another friend recommended reading his book. As my first Ronson book, I am definitely going to read his others. I like how he writes his investigating journalism with some wit and humor. It was an easy read and quite enjoyable; has made me start questioning the psychopaths I may have encountered or still encounter today. We follow Ronson on his journey as a hired detective sort to find the person responsible for leaving a book full of puzzles and words. After this task is given to him, he starts to question more and more about the "crazy" people in our world and what he finds is informative, stimulating and surprising. I would recommend you pick this book up, it's a good read.
WonderWomanKG More than 1 year ago
Exceptional read that I just couldn't put down....loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging look at the dilemmas and consequences of psychiatric labeling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. The author takes you along on his quest to learn more about psychopaths. The various characters, usually experts, come and go from the book as he meets them. They add more information as the books progresses. I enjoyed Men Who Stare at Goats for the same reason, it is the journey that moves you through the information
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More interesting than i thought it would be. If you are into psychology books, then it should be easy reading. I knocked it out in a day.