Wednesday, 15 June 2011

39/111 – The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Okay, so I’ve been sidetracked recently. Not only by personal life issues, but also by jobs. I have obviously eaten on way more than I can chew, and therefore it’s been a while since I have even wanted to look at another book, let alone read one. However last week I finished a book, and this week I’ve almost finished ANOTHER one, so it’s going much better than it has been.

I bought The Psychopath Test after reading an excerpt from it in the Guardian, and after also having enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats (the film, not the book). Since I’m quite interested in mental health issues, I thought this would be a good one to get my teeth back into. I was beginning to suspect for a little while that what I needed was not necessarily a break from reading, but maybe a break from fiction. I’ve spent the first five months of this year reading pretty much exclusively fiction, and I think that maybe I’ve been getting a bit sick of it. I look at the hundreds of books still left on my shelves, and I don’t really feel in the mood to read any of them, though my bookworm juices are beginning to flow again now that the stress of work has ebbed somewhat.

Holy shit, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I read a book! My brain truly must be rotting.

So, the book: I enjoyed it. There were times when it seemed to go off on some strange tangents and I wasn’t always sure what it was getting at. But I think that’s just Ronson’s style, which is fine. Even though the book seems to be about psychopaths, it also talks a lot about puzzles and mysteries, particularly focused around a cryptic book. Ronson seems to fall upon the subject of psychopaths by pure chance, and once the book mystery has been solved, he turns his attention to the frightening world of psychopaths.

What follows is part case study and part history of mental health treatment for this untreatable condition. Some of the results are hilarious (including an experiment with a roomful of naked psychopaths on acid) and others are chilling and frightening. He even takes a course from Bob Hare, a world-renowned expert in psychopathy in order to learn how to spot these people. He also briefly explores the way Scientologists approach psychiatry and mental health (they think it’s all bullshit, basically).

Interestingly, Ronson discovers that many of the world’s most dangerous psychopaths are not the murderers in asylums like Broadmoor, but the ones who head up huge companies, or military coups. He concludes that even a relatively small number of ruthless psychopaths can have a devastating effect on society. These are people who operate only for their own purposes, and have a lot of trouble keeping their impulses in check, but who can also be highly skilled at mimicking ‘normal’ people. Psychopaths do not really feel emotion, empathy or fear.

Makes me sort of wish I was one, sometimes.

I really enjoyed this. I was a little unsatisfied at the end, and maybe I was hoping for more of a conclusion, or another more gruesome revelation, but it was very entertaining. 

Next time, it won't be such a gap. And the book will be: The Game by Neil Strauss

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