522 of 560 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Serious Topic Tackled with Humanity
'People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get what they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of...
Published on May 12, 2011 by HeavyMetalMonty
192 of 204 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the right track, but never reaches the depot
I was absolutely engaged by this book--kept me hoping for more from beginning to end, and though it's written with verve and enthusiasm, although perhaps a bit too breezy from time to time, it never quite lives up to its promise, or, in fact, the startling possibilities of its unsettling premise. That premise is stated succinctly on page 112 (of my Kindle edition)...
Published on June 4, 2011 by Federico (Fred) Moramarco
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522 of 560 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Serious Topic Tackled with Humanity,
- Robert Hare, Ph.D
I've been hooked on Jon Ronson's writing since 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' was first published. Ronson cuts right to the heart of important topics by having the guts to ask the difficult questions. His literary style is equal parts journalistic rigour, deep compassion and incisive observational humour that often shines the light of ridicule on darker human behaviours. 'The Psychopath Test' explores psychiatry, psychopathology, medication and incarceration of 'dangerous' individuals. The book reads like a mystery novel, which - driven by Ronson's compelling prose - makes it difficult to put down.
The story begins with a meeting between Ronson and a history student who has received a cryptic book called 'Being or Nothingness' in the mail. The same book has been received by several individuals around the globe, most of whom work in the field of psychiatry. The book contains 42 pages, every second one blank. (This made me wonder...in 'The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy', the ultimate answer to life, the Universe and Everything was 42. Was this relevant? Was the mysterious author of 'Being or Nothingness' implying that his cryptic messages, if decoded, could lead to enlightenment?)
Ronson's journey leads him to 'Tony' in Broadmoor, who - when charged with GBH and facing prison 12 years earlier - had faked insanity in the hope of being sent to a comfortable psychiatric hospital. Instead, he had been sent to Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital (home to Britain's most dangerous psychotic prisoners), where he was being held indefinitely. Tony explains that he had picked characteristics of various movie lunatics then pieced them together into his 'insane' persona. Getting into Broadmoor had been easy, but getting out was proving immeasurably harder. A senior psychiatrist admits to knowing that Tony isn't insane, as a truly insane person wouldn't manufacture a new personality in the hope of avoiding prison...but a manipulative psychopath would.
Ronson meets Bob Hare, creator of the PCL-R Test, a 20-step Psychopath Checklist which gives individuals scores between zero and forty; the higher the score, the more psychopathic the person. Hare reveals that inmates at prisons and psychiatric institutions aren't the only ones who score highly on his 'psychopath test': many CEOs and directors of corporations qualify as psychopaths too. This prompts Ronson to wonder 'if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.'
Al Dunlap closed Shubuta's Sunbeam factory (the economic heart of that community), showing no empathy while firing workers and effectively killing the town. While laying off employees, he even spouted jokes such as, "You may have a sports car, but I'll tell you what you don't have. A job!" Bob Hare flags Dunlap as a psychopath, so Ronson sets out to meet the man. When Ronson asks probing questions based on the PCL-R checklist, Dunlap's responses mark him as a textbook psychopath.
Hare explains the science of psychopathology: a part of the brain called the amygdala doesn't function in psychopaths as it does in other human beings. When a regular person experiences extreme violence or carnage (or even photographs of such scenes), his amygdala becomes overstimulated, provoking an extreme anxiety response in the central nervous system. When a psychopath experiences the same stimuli, his amygdala does not respond: no anxiety response occurs. This explains the psychopath's lack of empathy.
'The Psychopath Test' is a compelling read. Ronson's fluid style is the perfect balance of rigorous research, keen observation, poignancy and humour. Congratulations to Jon Ronson on another phenomenal achievement.
192 of 204 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the right track, but never reaches the depot,
I audibly gasped when I read that paragraph because it seemed like so much common sense. Our world is as screwed up as it is not because of global warming and corrupt political systems, but because the individuals running it, economically, politically, and socially, are irresponsible, self-absorbed, selfish, egotists who have a grandiose sense of themselves and care little or nothing about the impact of their decisions and actions on others. They have virtually no sense of empathy and are generally pathological liars. They are impulsive and refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Usually, they demonstrated behavior problems early in their lives and have conned and manipulated their way through it.
These are a handful of the 20 items on Hare's Psychopathy Check List (PCL) which was first published in 1991 and has been translated into a dozen languages and has been the subject of many conferences, scholarly articles, workshops, seminars, books, and is generally regarded as the diamond standard of the profession. It has its detractors, of course, and though Jon Ronson touts it mightily throughout his "journey through the madness industry," even he has some reservations drawing the line between normal and psychopathic behavior.
The problem is that our society, especially certain elements of it, reward may of these traits. Corporate executives, for example, who devastate the employees of the companies they manage, and in fact even "enjoy" firing them are awarded large bonuses because profits matter more than people in much of the corporate world. Taking care of number 1 is an American virtue, and the novelist Ayn Rand built a reputation telling her readers how noble selfishness is, just as the 80's hit film, Wall Street made a mantra from the phrase, "Greed is Good."
Had Ronson stuck to his central idea and focused on helping us to understand how psychopaths have screwed up the upside-down world we live in today I think he would have produced a major work with universal application. While he does cross several fields (usually providing one or two examples from each) he could
have given us a wider range of examples that don't differentiate much between serial killers and business fraudsters (Hare remarks "Serial killers ruin families...Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.")
As it is, the book seems to flit around from one subject to the next with less cohesiveness than it should have. Ronson flies to Germany to follow up leads, haunts the halls of mental institutions, interviews many Scientologists (who have an ax to grind against psychology and psychiatry). On the one hand, psychopaths are responsible for all the world's woes; on the other, he questions whether they really exist at all. He rehashes many of the critiques of the psychiatry DSM-IV volume which underscore how virtually impossible it is to accurate describe any aberrant behavior--then reminds us that the manual says nothing at all about psychopaths.
This book is a valiant effort, and I think Ronson is on to something. But like Einstein's search for a unifying theory of physics, a unifying theory of destructive human behavior is still a bit beyond our grasp.
200 of 218 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychopaths among us,
In the book, Ronson takes us into the fascinating world of psychopaths by speaking to the experts and having amusing conversations with the psychopaths themselves. His conversations with psychopaths provide the book's best moments. Ronson comes across as anxious and easy to manipulate, which really gets the psychopaths to open up with him. He's also quite funny, which makes for some great interviews.
One in a hundred people are psychopaths, and those who aren't locked up in prisons can be hard to identify if you don't know what you're looking for. The book includes the actual test developed by Candadian psychologist Robert Hare that determines whether a person is a psychopath. Thankfully, I passed the test and it's quite fun to take it and see how you score on the traits typically seen in psychopaths: a lack of remorse, pathological lying, superficial charm, sexual promiscuity and extreme, self-serving manipulation.
When I bought the book, I was disappointed to see the Search Inside feature wasn't available, so here's the Table of Contents for those interested:
1 - THE MISSING PART OF THE PUZZLE REVEALED
2 - THE MAN WHO FAKED MADNESS
3 - PSYCHOPATHS DREAM IN BLACK AND WHITE
4 - THE PSYCHOPATH TEST
5 - TOTO
6 - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
7 - THE RIGHT SORT OF MADNESS
8 - THE MADNESS OF DAVID SHAYLER
9 - AIMING A BIT HIGH
10 - THE AVOIDABLE DEATH OF REBECCA RILEY
11 - GOOD LUCK
The book's strengths:
- In a nutshell, the book is a highly entertaining series of stories and interviews.
- It's a great read for those interested in psychology and the study of society's outliers.
- Ronson is quite funny.
89 of 102 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but Pedestrian Journalism,
Aside from relying almost entirely on lucky interviews that form a series of entertaining anecdotes, Ronson really provides the reader nothing of substance. Granted, this was not intended to be a scholarly work, and I concede that for sheer entertainment readers could do worse. But what I couldn't get past were his glaring omissions and misunderstandings. First, the DSM is an imperfect instrument and I know no one who would argue that it is infallible. But one saving grace -- a point that Ronson had to notice -- is that every diagnostic category shares a specific criterion (worded variously): EVIDENCE OF IMPAIRMENT. This is the definition of mental illness, and explains why homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1980. But rather than spend even a brief parenthetical sidestep explaining this to his reader, Ronson leaves this foundational prerequisite completely unmentioned. Psychopathy (antisocial personality disorder) and all the other DSM categories require that the person or those around them experience serious problems, either physically, academically, socially, legally, or vocationally, whether or not the individual themselves recognizes or admits it. By leaving this important caveat out, Ronson allows the lay reader to potentially believe that the Scientologists are correct: All mental disorders are a figment of psychiatrists' and drug manufacturers' self-serving imaginations. Without the impairment criterion, it is also easy to believe that the DSM is just a series of behavioral "checklists," as Ronson says, and that 50% of the public could be easily diagnosed with... well, something. Except for the pesky fact that the vast majority of folks live healthy, productive, and rewarding lives, complete with meaningful interpersonal relationships. Psychiatrists (and psychologists) recognize this, believe it or not, which is why we START with questions of impairment whenever a mental health diagnosis is suspected.
Second, best practices in psychiatry and psychology require that diagnosis is based on a multimodal assessment strategy, meaning that it is highly implausible that "Tony" was held against his will on the basis of the PCL-R alone. Without having access to his file, I can guarantee that in addition to a medical history, interview, etc., he also completed a global personality assessment, which over the years have been amazingly accurate at detecting malingering and lying. Although no single instrument is perfect, the collection of multiple instruments, interviews, histories, etc., ultimately paints a coherent story with time, and unless Tony had specific training or unless the intake clinicians were woefully incompetent, Tony's intentional malingering should have been caught at some point. (BTW, this makes Ronson's ongoing joke of being a qualified psychopathy hunter after his one workshop even more silly than he realizes.) The reason Tony would have received a battery of assessment instruments, ironically, is partly explained later in the book when Ronson retells the story of the Rosenhan experiment. After those researchers were able to fake their way into psychiatric hospitals back in the 1970s, new intake criteria were proposed and now it is actually quite difficult to get hospitalized unless you provide undeniable evidence of imminent harm to self or others. As a result, people who SHOULD be hospitalized are turned away every day. In fact, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that very ill individuals are routinely kicked out into the streets armed only with prescriptions.
But perhaps most disturbing is that Ronson undoubtedly heard everything I just said in his interviews with psychiatrists/psychologists. I'm not saying anything here that every graduate of a Psychology 101 course doesn't already know, so I'm wondering why this information never found its way into the story -- even for a cameo appearance? I think the reason for that is actually provided on page 168 (hardback): "We journalists love writing about eccentrics. We hate writing about impenetrable, boring people. It makes us look bad: the duller the interviewee, the duller the prose." I guess maybe the truth proved too damn boring and Ronson didn't want to wrinkle his readers' foreheads.
47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quirky and humorous romp,
Ronson's chronicle of his two-year quest for the elusive psychopath is at times whimsical, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and always riveting.
Those in the field of psychology will be perhaps most intrigued by Ronson's interviews with Robert Hare, inventor of the faddish Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist at the helm of the biggest diagnostic explosion of all time, the DSM-III development, and reclusive figures from back in the old days who choreographed naked, LSD-infused encounter groups for psychopaths at the Oak Ridge hospital for the criminally insane in Ontario, Canada.
Ronson, a journalist, film director, humorist, and author of the bestselling The Men Who Stare at Goats, was able to gain the confidence of his interview subjects to the point that they let down their guards and confided some of their concerns about psychiatric diagnosis and the misuse of psychopathy in the legal world.
In particular, Hare expressed chagrin about how his PCL-R instrument is being used as a basis for civilly detaining convicted sex offenders in the United States after they have finished serving their criminal sentences, for acts they might commit in the future:
" `PCL-R plays a role in that," Bob said. "I tried to train some of the people who administer it. They were sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, rolling their eyes, doodling, cutting their fingernails - these were people who were going to use it.' ... He told me of an alarming world of globe-trotting experts, forensic psychologists, criminal profilers, traveling the planet armed with nothing much more than a Certificate of Attendance, just like the one I had. These people might have influence inside parole hearings, death penalty hearings, serial-killer incident rooms, and on and on. I think he saw his checklist as something pure - innocent as only science can be - but the humans who administered it as masses of weird prejudices and crazy dispositions."
The Psychopath Test only skims the surface, and Ronson's meandering and tangential style feels almost schizophrenic at times. I also found myself disappointed that in the end--after all of his skepticism--he seems to buy into the overrated concept of psychopathy. But I would still recommend the book to anyone interested in a fast-paced and humorous romp through the psychiatric labeling industry.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You'd be crazy to miss it,
I enjoyed the kooky characters like the Scandinavian translator sending out mysterious manuscripts that pertain to something only his mind knows, as well as "Tony" the Broadmoor inmate who faked mental illness because he was told he would have an easier time inside if he were in a mental hospital instead of prison except now he can't leave. The Scientologists are involved in Tony's case and are campaigning for his release and we get an insight into why Scientologists dislike psychiatrists so much. David Shayler, an ex-MI5 agent turned conspiracy theorist is also interesting who became notorious for suggesting 9/11 was faked and that missiles with holograms attached to them to make them look like planes were fired at the WTC, is also in turn a cross dresser and believes his is the messiah returned.
The main story in the book was Ronson's journey into investigating the idea that most CEOs and world leaders are in fact psychopaths, but I felt Ronson didn't investigate this enough. He does write a lot about Al Dunlap, a CEO of an American toaster company called Sunbeam, and while the case for Dunlap is sometimes convincing, I felt that this wasn't enough for his thesis and that he should have investigated further (there are no interviews with world leaders or other CEOs).
The more serious side to this book gives it a stronger purpose. Ronson investigates how a formerly reputable criminal psychologist who made a suspect fit the evidence in a rape/murder and later found out that the suspect was entirely innocent. Also profiled is a psychologist who came up with a label for every time of behaviour which contributed to numerous misdiagnoses, specifically in children with illnesses like bipolar disorder, and how the current climate of over-analysing previously acceptable behaviour as dangerous can lead to over-medicating children, in some cases fatally.
Ronson's meandering style is similar to his previous books which I didn't mind as it was eminently readable but obviously can be annoying for some looking for more structure. He can take complicated cases, such as the mistaken identity of the rape/murder or the psychopath LSD experiments of the 60s, and make them understandable to a wide audience who aren't familiar with the circumstances. There was plenty to enjoy in the book as Ronson goes from gentle but eccentric personalities to more dangerous ones to some quite scary ones and one genuinely confusing one, I was gripped every step of the way. Thoroughly enjoyable and well written, Jon Ronson has written another fantastic book showcasing some very real problems with our modern world and some very interesting people. A great read.
40 of 51 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A breezy attempt to annoy serious people,
Mainly he learns a template for psychopathology and applies it to random people who agree to be interviewed by him. Those people are a varied lot and so the book hops from one topic to the next with little if any time set aside for analysis.
There's some attempt made, in an afterward to the book, to source Ronson's claims, random thoughts, and observations. But it's sporadic and not at all inclusive. By the time I had made it to the near-end of the book I came onto this bit: "And indeed, during the ten years that followed [the founding of Britain's DSPD units for apparently unredeemable and psychopathically violent criminals], hardly anybody was ever released from one. Once you were a DSPD patient, there seemed no way out." All I could focus on was the "hardly anybody". The natural question here is not whether any or all of them should be released; it's "What the hell does 'hardly anybody' mean?" The core of the book is whether a specific inmate, "Tony", is being wrongly held. So who DID get out of the DSPD units, and why them? (and how many and from where and when and with what diagnosis...) It's just a little thing, I know, but the whole book is riddled with the like.
Ronson claims to be a journalist. That should imply certain standards. People have said they think this book is funny. Ronson does have a show in Britain categorized as comedy. Fine. He should write funny novels.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Worthless,
127 of 168 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Corny and not credible.,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money,
This review is from: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Kindle Edition)I thought that I was going to read a book explaining pscypathology, instead I read a wandering and boring criticism of psychiatric jargon and its mispaplication.
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The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (Audio CD - May 12, 2011)