The Psychopath Test

A friend of mine recently called to tell me she read a book about psychopaths and prisons and serial killers and psychiatry. She mentioned something about the DSM, which I found very curious (as I don’t normally attribute knowledge of that sort of thing with anyone without a slough of diagnoses under their belt).

She told me I should read it. It’s called The Psychopath Test.

“I am not a detective, not a psychologist, and I didn’t even score that well when I self-diagnosed with the DSM-IV.” P.153

Jon Ronson is known (to some degree) for his slightly sporadic journalistic style. He wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, if that gives you any clue. He fills The Psychopath Test  with a series of stories about his journeys to learn about psychopaths (also called sociopaths, if you’re not familiar) and he sprinkles the pages with his own anxieties… which is fun, because it becomes quite easy [for me] to relate to.

“Suddenly, madness was everywhere, and I was determined to learn about the impact it had on the way society evolves. I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn’t? What if it is built on insanity?” P.31-32

The conclusion I came to while reading this book is that psychopaths are very nearly the opposite of a bipolar individual. They experience a very narrow sliver of emotion, for the most part, and almost zero empathy. Being bipolar, I experience a very engorged range of emotions, and amounts of empathy that are almost overwhelming.

Whether you’re interested in reading about serial killers or psychopaths in general or not, that isn’t why I’d recommend this book. There are a few chapters that were absolutely mind-blowing, chapters that made me gasp, and chapters that made me have to set the book down for a moment to shake my fist in the air.

Even one, “I knew it!” was shouted, which is always a good treat.

The cover says, “a journey through the madness industry” and it is exactly that.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it (it is a pretty quick and easy read, and I don’t really read a lot anymore so that is saying something), but this book is all non-fiction, and written by a journalist. I just want to re-iterate that before noting a few of the subjects captured in this book:

  • the DSM and the sorts of diagnoses therein
  • conspiracy theories
  • experimental LSD treatment in the 60’s
  • the role of mental illness in the media
  • a man who feigned insanity to avoid prison
  • a cryptic puzzle
  • scientologists and their hatred of psychiatry
  • the possibility of the world economy being driven  (and destroyed) by psychopaths
  • the epidemic of childhood bipolar diagnoses

Personally, this book had a pretty profound effect on me. I filled the darn thing with sticky-notes any time I read something that resounded with me, and the pages are now bursting with a rainbow of mildly adhesive slivers of paper. I’m supposed to return it to the library tomorrow, but I don’t want to… I’d love to just read the darn thing over again!

“Practically every prime-time program is populated by people who are just the right sort of mad, and I now knew what the formula was. The right sort of mad are people who are a bit madder than we fear we’re becoming, and in a recognizable way. We might be anxious, but we aren’t as anxious as they are. We might be paranoid, but we aren’t as paranoid as they are. We are entertained by them, and comforted that we’re not as mad as they are.” -P. 211

Jon Ronson’s writing style reminds me a teensy bit of Chuck Palahniuk, it is fast paced and introspective while being informative (only this stuff’s true!) and interesting. At the same time, he covers a wide number of bases to get several different perspectives, so just when you think you can agree with some of the things he’s discovered, he’ll challenge your thoughts in a new way in the next chapter. If you’re looking for a good read, try picking up The Psychopath Test at amazon.com or your local library today!

2 responses to “The Psychopath Test

  1. strugglingwithbipolar

    I am going to have to request this on my book swap site. I have a few credits left there.

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