I think I found The Psychopath Test randomly on a library search, though it's possible someone suggested it to me. At any rate, it bills itself as "A journey through the madness industry" and I have a vested interest in madness.
And I suppose in that sense it works, at least...
I did enjoy the book, but only after I gave up on trying to follow the timeline of the narrative. For a guy who was trained as a journalist, Ronson seems to have some difficulty building a coherent story. The book reads like a million insane things happening at once, encircled by Ronson's anxiety and insecurity. Having read about his anxiety and insecurity, I feel kind of bad panning the book, but I walked away from the book with the essential sensation of What The Hell.
We are dazzled by people who withhold something, and psychopaths always do because they are not all there. --p.136
The book's PR gives the impression that it's about the history of the psychopathic diagnosis and how it can be applied to people in power, precisely because psychopaths are those most likely to do the stomping it takes to gain power. But then it sort of starts out as the story of a mysterious art book that was sent to an international selection of academics, proceeds to an exploration of Ronson's anxiety issues, and ends up a sort of wishy-washy condemnation of Big Pharma with a side of "everyone's a bit crazy, yeah?" thrown in for good measure. It's just not a terribly cohesive book, nor does it have any given stance it defends very well.
I couldn't see where the collection of Burger King figurines came in, but I suppose there was no reason why psychopaths shouldn't have unrelated hobbies. -- p 127, referring to mass murderer Toto Constant's collection of fast food toys
It seems like, essentially, a collection of interrelated anecdotes about losers. There's an arc to all of Ronson's interactions; the people he interviews start off seeming normal or successful or at the very least powerful, and by the end they're revealed as hopeless little creatures stuck in their own delusions. The one exception is Tony, the is-he-isn't-he psychopath.
There's one story in the book that really put me off and almost made me stop reading. Ronson relates how he needs to get hold of someone staying in a hotel, and he has the idea to find a phone in the lobby, call the front desk, and get transferred up to the room. He sees the concierge's desk has a phone that's not in use, so he picks it up.
But I got only as far as picking up the phone before I saw the concierge marching fast towards me.
"Put down my phone!" he barked.
"Just give me a second!" I cheerfully mouthed.
He grabbed the phone from my hand and slammed it down.
Ronson is offended and surprised, and psychopath expert Bob Hare extrapolates from this interaction that the concierge is a psychopath. What I got from this interaction is that Ronson was being a douchebag and using a phone he had no business using, and the concierge was worried about losing his job and angry that someone was screwing around at his desk. I'm a pretty mild mannered guy and if I found a strange person standing at my desk messing with my phone, I'd take it away from him too. So my sympathy for Ronson waned sharply after that, and as he was the hero of the narrative, I lost a lot of interest.
I really would have liked to read more about the book that Ronson mentions at the start. It's essentially irrelevant; it's just meant to show how Ronson became interested in mental illness. But it's such a great mystery, and has such a dumb conclusion. I'd read a fiction book about that.
Final Verdict: If you're interested in psychology, it's worth a look at the library, but I wouldn't pay money for it. If you're interested in psychopaths it's not exactly blood-and-gore true crime, and if you're interested in a discussion of the politics of big pharma and overdiagnosis, there are books with far more nuance that you would be better off reading.
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