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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quirky and humorous romp, May 26, 2011
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This review is from: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Hardcover)
The power to label is intoxicating. That's what Jon Ronson found after taking a 3-day training that gave him license to diagnose people as psychopaths. Armed with a 40-item checklist, the journalist went gallivanting around the globe, sniffing out prospective psychopaths from convicted murderers to corporate job-slashers and Haitian war criminals.

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.
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Initial post: Jan 11, 2012 11:28:42 AM PST
I was on the same training as Jon Ronsen, and had reservations with regard to the potential consequences of the PCL-R for prisoners. I have read his book and found it refreshing, humourous, entertaining, and insightful. In fact, I initially skim read the book, just being curious as to what he wrote about the training. I found myself becoming quite absorbed. In fact, so much so, that I am now reading the book for the second time, but taking time to really take on board the information presented. Brilliant!!!
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