Book review: The Psychopath Test

With a book dedicated to analyzing psychopaths, a group that often brings to mind stereotypical terms such as ‘deranged,’ ‘emotionless’ and ‘dangerous,’ it is hard not to be attracted to it.

I was half expecting to read about the infamous Jack the Ripper or some other brutal serial killers, only to have author Jon Ronson dig deep into the mind boggling business for psychopaths.

“I remembered those psychologists who said psychopaths made the world go around. They meant it: society was, they claimed, an expression of that particular sort of madness.”

Starting off with the most widely used diagnostic test for psychopathy, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which the book’s title is based on, Ronson laid the foundation with an ‘official’ definition.

“Psychopaths are predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs,” Bob Hare, creator of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist wrote. “Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please.”

Yet Ronson’s mistrust for psychiatry was very soon revealed when he started questioning one of the most notable traits on the Hare’s Checklist ‘grandiose sense of self-worth’ through the case of Tony.

For a criminal who claimed he feigned madness to avoid prison sentence, Tony is now a patient in one of the most notorious asylums for criminal lunatics in the UK, Broadmoor Hospital, which drives him nuts.If Tony refuses to spend time with his criminally insane neighbors, it would only demonstrate he is withdrawn, aloof and have a grandiose sense of self-importance.

“In Broadmoor, not wanting to hang out with insane killers is a sign of madness.”

But if he engages with therapy, it indicates that he is getting better, and if he is getting better, the authorities will have the legal right to detain him.

Things got even crazier with corporate psychopaths.The first on the list was former CEO Al Dunlap, who goes by the nicknames ‘Chainsaw Al’ and ‘Rambo in Pinstripes’ for his ruthless business methods.

“The first obviously strange thing about Al Dunlap’s grand Florida mansion… was the unusually large number of ferocious sculptures there were of predatory animals. They were everywhere: stone lions and panthers and eagles soaring downwards, and hawks with fish in their talons and on and on…,” described Ronson.

These sculptures of predators are not only a sight to behold but also physical manifestation of Al Dunlap’s identity.

“Lions. Jaguars. Lions. Always predators. Predators. Predators. Predators. I have a great belief in and a great respect for predators. Everything I did, I had to go make happen.”

Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test” and its unique inquiry into a niche area of mental health is intriguing and lunatic that will certainly leave a deep, lasting imprint in your mind.

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62 thoughts on “Book review: The Psychopath Test

  1. So glad I spotted this review- I read something about this book a while ago and could not remember the author. Thanks for the insight, can’t wait to read it.

  2. Thanks for sharing this book review. A subject that closely interests me after being married to a borderline psychopath, and I now write my blog on picking up my life again post all of that.

    This book and some others mentioned in the comments will be added to my reading list for sure.

    Thanks again!

  3. I read and loved this book. It took me less than two days to finish it because I couldn’t put it down. I also read Snakes in Suits which I recommend as well.

  4. Fascinating! I’ve read my fair share of books on various criminals: serial killers, hitmen, mob bosses, and the like. They’ve all brushed over the topic, but I’ve never read a book specifically studying psychopathy. I’ll definitely be adding this one to my list…great review!

  5. I was debating on whether to buy this book & now I most definitely will. It sounds like its written from a new perspective & that’s something I like. thank you for your blog!

  6. Congrats of being Freshly Pressed once more!

    I am really curious about the photo you have in your Header. Did you take it, and where was it? Because of the clothes, I would say Northern Pakistan, or Afghanistan. But there are some North African looking men in the photo, which makes me wonder if is set in the MENA region, but with South Asian workers in the marketplace. As you can see, it is confusing me a little bit. I am Pakistani myself, and would love to place that photo.

    1. Hello there, thanks for dropping by my blog and hope you did enjoy the posts.

      You’re one of the first few people to ever ask me about the header banner and it’s a really interesting question because it certainly is a very keen observation on your part!

      This picture was taken by me just last year at a livestock market in the dessert town of Rissani, eastern Morocco. I like the composition of the picture quite a bit and thought it’ll make a nice header!

      1. It really is a great photo.
        Now on closer inspection I see that the men’s tunic are much longer than in South Asia, so it does seem like the Arabic/North African tunic, not the South Asian kurta.

  7. I remember reading a few years back how you could essentially diagnose all toddlers as being psychopaths. I have had two toddlers and I’m not disagreeing: no remose, manipulative, charming when needs be, violent when needs be not met. Empathy is something we have to learn. So, maybe we’ve all been there!

    I did really enjoy The Psychopath Test although ‘Them’ is still my favourite Jon Ronson book. So worth a read if you haven’t read it yet.

  8. I don’t know why but I have a liking towards psychopaths. I kind of like them. And I am planning to read this book now! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  9. Ok, so here I don my Hipster Glasses. I had the chance to see the art work and cover design for this several months ago. I find it very cool to suddenly come across the very same book here on WordPress without even searching. Based on the contents of this article and the comments that followed, the book itself sounds fascinating!

  10. I will be reading this book. I truly believe psychopaths walk among us in abundance and sadly I think they might be the ones who make the world go round – the movers and shakers I guess you could say.
    Have you read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout? Very interesting, I highly recommend it to everyone.

  11. Thank you so much for highlighting this book. Will definitely put onto my “books to buy” list. Currently studying to be a Criminologist because I really want to get into the minds of Psychopaths and all related abnormal psychologies.

  12. I read this book a few months ago. I really enjoy Ronson. He has a gift for fleshing out interesting topics with haunting stories. I like how he inserts his personality (including his great sense of humor) into the commentary. I was also expecting something grittier when I picked up The Psychopath Test. In order to satisfy my morbid curiosity, I ordered History of Madness by Michael Foucault and it definitely does the job!

  13. I read this book not quite a year ago (I studied psychopathy in my final year of my BA) and I loved it! I think Ronson really captures the true essence of the *everyday psychopath* and nuances (and politics) of the mental health industry. It’s a great read….
    And just as an aside, a few months later I was at Robert Hare’s presentation at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus where he was the key note to launch the new Centre for Advancement of Psychological Science and Law (CAPSL)–whew, what a title! He, of course, had to bring up Ronson’s book, and how Ronson contacted him etc, etc, etc… *I think he was flattered…. it’s one thing to be referenced based on one’s research. It’s a whole different game when someone is writing about you in book such a Ronson’s.
    Charming guy, that Bob Hare… makes a person think…. hmmm 🙂

  14. This sounds like a very interesting read! Although I found the review to be lacking quite a bit. But it’s definitely going on my summer reading list. Thanks for the recommendation and congratulations on being freshly pressed :D!

  15. I’ve experienced working with corporate psychopaths. One CEO told me that she was diagnosed as a sociopath and I didn’t believe her. It shined through! Recently, I experienced another one she’s not diagnosed but I know that I will hear of it.

  16. I started this book, got distracted and haven’t finished it. I will start it again soon, thanks for the motivation!

  17. Is there a psychopathic test for corporate CEOs and politicians? I am thinking of in particular, transnational corporations who are predators to the earth, and all creatures on it.

  18. I heard about this book via the This American Life podcast. The topic peaked my interest so I decided to read the book as well. So interesting how the human brain works. I struggle with empathy sometimes but so glad I don’t even show up as a blip on the Hare test…hahahaha

  19. If you have lived in a dangerous world you have to know a friend and and an enemy. People all around will all say they are friends. But look at things around them by them. That is how you know a friend from an enemy.

  20. Great review and congrats on being freshly pressed again. What a testament to your writing. Have you considered opening up an Amazon astore?

  21. I taught a criminology class and always showed a documentary about Robert Hare’s psychopathy checklist. It’s a fascinating topic, and I’ll be sure to check out this book. Thanks!

  22. I’d give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. It is enjoyable and it gives me a little something to think about at those social functions where I have to listen to the proud, pompous, and pious. You know what I am talking about because we have all been there, done that, and lived through it. He has a very amusing style of writing that I enjoy. It has just enough smart @$$ spunk to get the message across without being too insulting. I also, appreciate how he respects the reader. He doesn’t talk down to them. He expects you to get what he is trying to say without preaching. Good read.

  23. Thanks for sharing your blog on Ronson’s book, The Psychopath Test. One of my favorite quotes from his book is: “There is no evidence that we’ve been on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal. And in fact our unhappiness and our strangeness, our anxieties and compulsions, those least fashionable aspects of our personalities, are quite often what lead us to do rather interesting things.”
    Thanks for sharing. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  24. I read this book a few months back and loved it. The subject matter wa fascination, yes, but what sealed it, what set it part from simply a non-fiction book on psychopaths was Ronson’s writing style and homour. He used to write a weekly column for The Guardian newspaper and it was very funny – this book adopts that quick wit style. I finished it in a few days. It’s also been a handy research book for my next novel.

  25. Reblogged this on Coffee Counseling and commented:
    An EXCELLENT review of a book…It has peaked my interest significantly:) I may have to go get this and add my thoughts/reactions at a later date. Please comment/post or tweet if you have read this or have any suggestions for books I should consider:D

    1. Just recently heard audio of The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Fascinating work and very in depth.

  26. I took an abnormal psychology class and I loved learning about the different personalty disorders. Antisocial personality disorder intrigued me the most. I find this book review interesting and I will check it out.

  27. Love it! I’ve come across my fair share of undiagnosed psychopaths in my time — heck, a few of my blog posts are even devoted to them! It would be most interesting to gain some insights into how these minds work…or don’t…

    😉

    1. Unfortunatley these types not only pop up incorporations but exhibit the skills that Snr. Managers and Executive Recruiters are fond of.
      In difficult, pressured circumstances, they may well have the discipline to outlast normal personality types.

      As the great political analyst, N. Machiavelli pointed out so long ago – –

      “If a person wishes to do good amongst those who are not good, he shall surely come to ruin” – The Prince, circa 1500.

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