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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,177 reviews
Profile Image for Lynn Weber.
511 reviews34 followers
May 19, 2011
If you're interested in this topic, I'd recommend starting with Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door rather than this book. The problem with this one is that it's more "Follow me as I delve into this crazy world and have surreal experiences" than it is a study of sociopathy. And that ultimately makes it less gripping. I remember clearly the first section of of Stout's book, as it took the reader on a tour of one man's mind as he faced a simple but telling moment of moral decision-making. It was so suspenseful and kind of harrowing. This is much less profound.

Nonetheless, it's a genial read and certainly a good book.
Profile Image for Simeon.
Author 1 book384 followers
June 29, 2016
  ***Warning: this review is not for the fainthearted.***

A video recently went viral of a Texas judge savagely beating his disabled teenage daughter with a belt.

Perhaps the most heartrending moment of the video is near the beginning, when in a tiny voice the girl cries out: “Dad...” an instant before he starts to hit her.

What do you get when you hollow a human of conscience? If there were no empathy, no guilt, no shame, no anxiety, no compunction... if impulse control simply meant biding your time... if ego were all that mattered, a desire to dominate others, the shameless manipulation: quintessence of a creature with the mind of a man but the soul of an insect, no trappings of honor or personal responsibility (let alone personality). Well, you get things like human trafficking, plutocratic oligarchies, and Donald Trump.

Perhaps it occurs to you that even wife-beaters must love their wives, or why keep them around otherwise? Sociopaths don't always fake emotion or attachment. Family members are possessions, tears of loss for an important object their deepest sentiment. They do not love. They possess.

Children, for instance, are an irritation, products of the loins that may occasionally cause trouble, but which ultimately serve a purpose, useful in keeping up social appearances (if that fails, children can always be disowned). Sociopaths experience sorrow and cry for lost possessions in exactly the same way they would on finding their favorite automobile crushed by a tree in the driveway.

Without empathy, the ego becomes all-consuming. A sociopath is solipsistic to a degree that even Ayn Rand might find appalling (though she would herself score rather high on Robert Hare’s PCL-R test).

Factor 1: Personality, “Aggressive narcissism”

Glibness and superficial charm

Bachmann eyes

The creepy superficiality that politicians ooze like body fluid is item one.

It’s true, we all act sometimes. At work you may not behave the way you do at home, but usually affectation takes a toll. Overdo it, and your guilt and shame could manifest into a full-blown existential crisis. That’s why so many young people are emotionally wrecked or altered by the modern workplace, where character is not only irrelevant, but actively winnowed along the corporate ladder. (There’s a preponderance of sociopaths at the top of the corporate and political food-chain.)

Grandiose sense of self-worth, narcissism, egomania

he spent his life as an animated carcass

Pathological lying

Cunning and Manipulation


Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)

Dick Cheney

Lack of remorse or guilt

Callousness; lack of empathy

Many hypothesize that Rush Limbaugh eats babies, or that he's the result of a human-pig crossbreading experiment gone terribly wrong. Or maybe, he's just a garden variety sociopath, who knows?

Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Nothing left to say

Behavioral patterns include bullying others at a young age, sometimes torturing animals, reacting with clinical detachment to images of depravity and gore, emotionally preying on others for entertainment, promiscuity, short-term marital relationships, criminal versatility, etc.

Anxiety and shyness are the diametric opposite of psychopathy.

As you can imagine, Judge Adams would behave splendidly in public. He's a confident man, enjoys being called "sir" and flaunting his achievements, like all materially successful creatures. The real question, of course, is how he treats those over whom he has power. The understated answer is “badly.” Not being human himself, he's never quite sure how to treat other humans, except by observing and pretending to be one of them, a tiresome mimicry.

Of her psychopathic father, Hilary said: "I told him I had the video and he didn't seem to think anything of it, basically dared me to post it. I think he just really needs help and rehabilitation.”

She actually feels sorry for him. Incidentally, Judge Adams told reporters: “In my mind I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child.”

You may think you are good at lying or rationalization, but you are nothing compared to a sociopath, whose favorite phrases include gems like:

“Look at what you made me do!” and the classic:
“Are you happy now?" yelled while abusing a victim,
"Is this what you wanted? Do you like disobeying me?”

"I was completely brainwashed and controlled," said the mother, "I leave the room, he’s telling me what to say, what to do."

You get the picture. Sociopaths are everywhere, between one and three % of the population, male and female, and not always violent. They are attracted to authority. It's something in their lizard brains, a vestigial will to power.

Also, psychopaths cannot tolerate disrespect. Sometime near the video's end, Judge Adams promises that so much as a questionable tone of voice from his daughter would result in even more severe beatings.

Factoid: the Texas Judge has a history of ruling child-abuse cases in favor of the abuser, saying that a child's testimony is void without video evidence, ironically.

Somewhat related empathy test developed by professor Baron-Cohen.

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi on The Colbert Report explaining why empathy, creativity, realism are so important in leaders.

Jon Ronson on the Daily Show.
Profile Image for MischaS_.
785 reviews1,374 followers
October 25, 2019
I got lucky so lucky with this book that I still cannot understand it.

Sometimes, I read the blurb for a book, reviews from my favourite reviewers, a couple of chapters which are free somewhere and yet the book is a huge disappointment for me.

Here? I just saw this book on BookDepository, I loved the title, and I bought it.

I had no idea what's this book about, who wrote it, what's the genre.

Starting with this book, I immediately enjoyed it. It was not a quick read for me, but every time I read it, the story pulled me inside, several times I missed my stops!
I wanted more. I kept wondering how it all connected because it did not seem like it did.

Then I recognised a name, and I realised that this book is not a fiction.

And suddenly it all made sense how all this connected. And it started to terrify me.

It reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In the most horrifying way.

Where is the line between normal human quirks and a mental disorder? How terrifying that people might be misdiagnosed?

How do you prove your sanity?

I enjoyed how the author struggled with his knowledge of how to spot psychopaths because he was right if you're not careful, you'll suddenly see them everywhere.

“I've always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn't? What if it is built on insanity?”

What I know is that I won't be reading Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. While I enjoyed the information about it included in this book, how it went from a thin booklet to the monstrosity which now has close to a thousand pages. Because I'm certain it would make me paranoid, and I would feel like everybody around me has some mental disorder. And maybe they do. Perhaps we all do. Or none of us does.

“Trying to prove you’re not a psychopath is even harder than trying to prove you’re not mentally ill,’ said Tony.”

This is not a good review, I know it, but the book left such an impression that I have a hard time voicing my opinion on it.

“If you want to get away with wielding true, malevolent power, be boring.”

What I can say is that I enjoyed it. It was nothing I expected. But it is a book which will keep me awake for days and I will be thinking about it for weeks.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
August 7, 2019

A breezy, entertaining journey through the public effects of madness, with particular attention to the impact of the psychopath on society.

Ronson is an excellent writer with a fine sense of humor who knows how to tell a good story in plain language. That he is able to do this while making subtle observations about our society shows what a really good writer he is.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,621 reviews986 followers
October 15, 2021
Words cannot really describe how much I enjoyed this 'journey through the madness industry'. In a thoroughly informative, funny and revealing read Jon Ronson takes an almost darkly comedic look at the industry, science and some key stories from the world of psychopaths. Absolutely recommended read. 9 out of 12
Profile Image for Courtney Lindwall.
197 reviews13 followers
June 5, 2011
I read this in about a 4 hour span, from 12 am - 4 am. It freaked me out and I slept with the lights on. But on with the review.

So I've read things about psychopaths previously. How their brains are actually wired differently and they are unable to feel empathy, etcetc. Psychopathy is incurable. Psychopathy, in its violent and sexual strands, is outright fucking terrifying.

But Ronson's book talks more about the frequent misdiagnosis of psychopathy. And the misdiagnosis of many other "mental illnesses" that may in fact just be trying to label and profit off of various human eccentricities. I thought it was interesting. Especially the inmate Tony who scammed his way into the Mental Hospital hoping for nicer amenities and found himself unable to convince the doctors of his sanity for another 20 years (13 years after his prison sentence was originally intended to be over).

That's some real life One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stuff. When the majority decides that the only thing needed to stamp a lifelong label of "psychopath" is a score over 30 on a 20 point behavioral checklist, an incredible danger arises. Misuse and misguided priorities in diagnosis can ruin lives, create madness instead of protect against it.

As relatively new fields, I think psychotherapy and the psychiatric world at large are bound to make huge changes in their approach as they learn more and more about the human brain and its relation to behavior. A lot of the disorders seem, to me, very subjective in their conditions. (e.g. one of the characteristics for psychopathy is an 'inflated sense of self worth'....uhm? that's pretty subjective and would probably include the vast majority of my professors) The human brain itself is just such an incredible unknown that I think there needs to be a certain level of trepidation in creating absolutes. For Tony, the "absolute" definition of psychopathic tendencies lost him the best 20 years of his life surrounded by rapists and serial killers in a maximum security Hospital.

Of course, at the same time, there are definitely strands of human beings who objectively act differently and need to be addressed by society. They respond differently. They do not have the same emotional capacity as the other 99% of the human race. There is some definitive consistency in the way their minds work. There need to be tactics for identification, for prevention against their possible havoc.

So basically Ronson's conclusion is that, like with every other thing in this world, there needs to be a balance in the approach. There can't be a mass frenzy to diagnose and label every little idiosyncrasy of human behavior, turning the world into a medicated homogenization scared of every feeling outside of complacent and numb. But at the same time, we can't ignore extreme human behavior, the kind that is debilitating and sometimes even dangerous.

Oh wait, back to my review of the actual book. It was decent. Who isn't intrigued by the minds of psychopaths (and the minds of those who study the minds of psychopaths)? I thought his different chapters and stories were a little too disjointed and he trailed off topic a little toward the end. The book didn't have as great of a flow or dynamic as it could've. But overall, pretty interesting and worth a read.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
554 reviews60.5k followers
April 13, 2018

I'm not sure how much I learned about Psychopaths but I learned I like the author a lot.
He's awkward and anxious in the most relatable way!

If you're going to read this book, do yourself a favour and get the audiobook!
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.1k followers
February 7, 2017
My first read of the year and it isn't what I was hoping for 3 I decided to jump on this because of my crazy love for Jon Ronson's newest book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, but I realize now that I underestimated just how much the subject matter of that book contributed to my enjoyment of it. The Psychopath Test has Ronson's humour, similar style, empathetic point of view, and personal life injected into the story, but this research felt meandering. I thought it'd be clearer, earlier in the novel, how dangerous it can be to misdiagnose people, and how truly nuanced, complicated, and personal each diagnosis should be, but I felt it took to long to get to that angle of this story. A lot of it also didn't feel like a story, it felt like a collection of similar case studies, but honestly a bunch of them could have been cut out and I wouldn't have noticed.

Overall this has cemented that I like Ronson's writing and his journalistic storytelling methods, but that this topic, and the scattered structure, wasn't for me. (This is more like a 2.5 stars for me.)
August 16, 2018
he DSM-IV-TR is a 943-page textbook published by the American Psychiatric Association that sells for $99...There are currently 374 mental disorders. I bought the book...and leafed through it...I closed the manual. "I wonder if I've got any of the 374 mental disorders," I thought. I opened the manual again. And instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones. (c)
We journalists love writing about eccentrics. We hate writing about impenetrable, boring people. It makes us look bad: the duller the interviewee, the duller the prose. If you want to get away with wielding true, malevolent power, be boring. (c)
When I asked Robert Spitzer about the possibility that he'd inadvertently created a world in which ordinary behaviours were being labelled mental disorders, he fell silent. I waited for him to answer. But the silence lasted three minutes. Finally he said, 'I don't know. (c)
I supposed there was no reason why psychopaths shouldn't have unrelated hobbies. (c)
People who are normal (i.e., sane, sensible) don’t try to open lines of communication with total strangers by writing them a series of disjointed, weird, cryptic messages. (c) Seriously? No shit.
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. (c)
He did another experiment, the Startle Reflex Test, in which psychopaths and non-psychopaths were invited to look at grotesque images, like crime-scene photographs of blown-apart faces, and then when they least expected it, Bob would let off an incredibly loud noise in their ear. The non-psychopaths would leap with astonishment. The psychopaths would remain comparatively serene. (c)
the American physician Samuel Cartwright identifying in 1851 a mental disorder, drapetomania, evident only in slaves. The sole symptom was “the desire to run away from slavery” and the cure was to “whip the devil out of them” (c)
... if you’re beginning to feel worried that you may be a psychopath, if you recognize some of those traits in yourself, if you’re feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one. (c)
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews252 followers
July 22, 2017
Yesterday I saw a talk show on TV in which a Belgian politician said that the stock market is no gauge for happiness. This is so true. It reminded me of this book, in which the author, in his quest to uncover psychopaths, visits Al Dunlap. This was a man who actually enjoyed closing down plants and firing people (Scott, Sunbeam). The fact that the share price skyrocketed while he was CEO and fired huge numbers of employees, is really unsettling.

Ronson's book is filled with stories about people he meets in the madness industry. He encounters some experts in the field, some scientologists, a criminal labeled as a psychopath, a death squad leader... These encounters were interesting enough to me to enjoy reading this book. I especially liked his encounter with Robert Spitzer, who worked for six years on the DSM III edition (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

However, it's a lightweight read and not everything he writes in his book fits the title. The author is not an expert, and he makes himself too central to the narrative, which is really sad because I thought he was a bit lame.

Not mind-blowing, but a worthwhile read.

Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,235 followers
April 27, 2013
“There is no evidence that we've been placed 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.”

Jon Ronson, in preparation of writing this book took a course from a top psychologist on how to spot a Psychopath. Below is a list of traits from the first factor called "Aggressive Narcissism". The statistics show that 1% of the population is psychopathic....gulp. One person out of one hundred.

Come along with me and play 'spot the psychopath'....shall we?

#1. Glibness/superficial charm
#2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
#3. Pathological lying
#4. Cunning/manipulative
#5. Lack of remorse or guilt
#6. Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
#7. Callousness; lack of empathy
#8. Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin

#1. Everything she has ever said is Glib.
#2. Truly believed she could be vice president...NO, PRESIDENT!
#3. "What newspapers do you read (Sarah)?"..."Ah, you know, all of 'em." LIAR! "I can see Russia from my house"....sure.
#4. She got herself nominated for the vice presidency didn't she?
#5. Enjoys shooting wolves from a helicopter without a care in the world.
#6. Duh....check.
#7. Does not give a fuck have empathy for the poor and the sick.
#8. Has not accepted the responsibility for destroying the Republican party....or maybe that falls on McCain.

Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney

#1. Glibness? sure. Charm? Well you can't win them all.
#2. Made himself president.
#3. Weapons of mass destruction? Anyone?
#4. Again, made himself president.
#5. Shot his friend in the face. He not only wasn't sorry, he made the friend apologize for getting his face in the way.
#6. Do cyborgs have emotions?
#7. Does not give a fuck about anyone, for any reason.
#8. Started an unnecessary war that has killed thousands for personal profit and has never "I'm sorry" once.


Start reading at comment #49. Okay a personal joke.....I kid, Alex. Sort of.

This could go on and on, so I'll stop here.

“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?”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Jon makes us look twice at the world around us and how we are all defined by our 'maddest edges'...all of our edges are a bit mad. He shows us a look at the 'madness industry' and how one Doctor took the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from 40ish pages into the 800s. Being normal is a disorder these days.

Here is Jon's TED talk on this book

If you are worried about the above traits, well....

“At the end of our conversation she (Martha Stout) turned to address you, the reader. She said if you're beginning to feel worried that you may be a psychopath, if you recognize some of those traits in yourself, if you're feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one.”
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,849 followers
September 3, 2018
This is what I might call "an oddly interesting book". I say that because in retrospect I'm a bit surprised that it holds the interest so well. Mr. Ronson begins with a strange little mystery concerning running down the source/writer of an (to use the same word) odd book that has been mailed to certain people. From this the book springboards into a look at Psychopathy, its diagnosis and by extension the way in which psychiatric disorders are not only diagnosed but agreed on (that is agreed to exist as disorders).

Rambling a bit and full of introspective thoughts by the author (most of which are interesting and entertaining if not always germane) we go through a series of interviews that range from "Tony" to Bob Hare who basically formulated the most used Psychopath test. Tony was a young man who has been in Broadmoor for years, sent there after a relatively minor offense. The author was brought there by representatives of the church of Scientology in an attempt to discredit psychiatry in general. Other interviews included Emmanuel Constant, a former Haitian death-squad leader. He also interviewed a corporate hatchet man type exec. who was known for blithely firing people and joyously shutting down plants.

There is a lot that's interesting here and the book will (I believe) keep you involved. After looking into how disorders get into (and are pulled out of) DSM-IV-TR, considering the implications of Hare's list (and how it effected the author as he found himself setting out to find and identify "free range psychopaths) and the attitudes around these he came to an interesting conclusion. That they may be dangerous tools leading to over diagnosis.

I suggest you take a look at this, especially if you (like me) have been "concerned" about statements like "1% to 10% of the population may be psychopaths". While this book may be a bit more disjointed than some of the author's other's well done and interesting.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,390 followers
February 6, 2017
This was a bit of a disappointment. I found the first 50% of the book to be a bit forgettable. It was hard for me to see where Ronson was going with each chapter. Though I found the examination of mental illness, especially the stigmas around it and the potential harms of labeling to be really fascinating, the book as a whole lacked direction. When I read So You've Been Publicly Shamed, I felt like each chapter really compounded on one another to create a vivid and interesting picture of shame through the lens of an empathetic viewer. While Ronson maintained that empathy in The Psychopath Test, I felt a bit less invested in the stories he shared and found it harder to connect with his points. However, the last few chapters were awesome. I'm not bummed I listened to this one because Ronson is a wonderful narrator and has a unique perspective in almost everything he does, but it didn't live up to what I'd expected. If you're curious about this topic, I'd recommend listening to this episode of the Criminal Podcast where he talks about psychopathy and even some of the subjects he handles in this book.
Profile Image for Kate Woods Walker.
352 reviews28 followers
June 18, 2011
The subtitle, “a Journey Through the Madness Industry,” should have tipped me off. This was to be a self-consciously iconoclastic, too-cutesy look at psychiatry.

I am a fan of Jon Ronson, but less so after this book. I enjoyed Them. I thought the sly Ronson did a stellar job of bringing the horror of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib to public consciousness in The Men Who Stare at Goats.

But I now realize I was making excuses for his irritating, postmodern, bemused style. He's too intent on inserting himself into the narrative as the innocent yet all-knowing Wise Child. When I read the Goats book, I rationalized his use of the gimmicky, humorous voice, thinking the importance of the subject excused the breezy tone. Not so much here. Here it just became sneering and cruel, and to what purpose I cannot say.

Ronson seems to mock the mentally ill, sympathize with incarcerated psychopaths, undermine the work of researchers and, ultimately, make no point whatsoever with this book. From a totally unnecessary story about a mysterious book to the deceptive title (there's no test, per se, there is only a checklist easily available to anyone who can Google), The Psychopath Test isn't even a good introduction to the subject of psychopathy.

Oh, he quotes the right sources: Hervey Cleckley, Robert Hare, Martha Stout, to name a few. But his determination to present himself as irreverent also means he gives respectful voice to anti-psychiatry cranks and to the psychopaths themselves. Anyone not personally victimized by one of these monsters could easily be fooled into thinking they are not dangerous, just misunderstood. And that would truly be evil.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,348 followers
October 12, 2011
I thought this would be a great tool for self-diagnosis, but actually Ronson skitters from one case to another without really making any definitive point. But maybe that’s the point. Psychopathy is probably not an absolute for most people, as there are many among us who exist in some sort of sociopathic gray area (myself included). Me, I scored a 10, so I’m a partial psychopath. (Surprise, surprise!) My downfall? Apparently, I don’t really care too much about other people.

Here, take the test!
Profile Image for Dan.
78 reviews36 followers
May 28, 2011
An entertaining romp and with a fair bit of food for thought. I liked this book, while at the same time being disappointed with it.

My main problem with the work was that I had heard that this book dealt extensively with the idea of psychopaths as possessing traits that tended to land them in positions of power. This is a fascinating topic, is of personal interest to me, and is a concept well-worth a full-length journalistic book. Unfortunately, this is not that book. A clever agent is selling this book as an investigation into this topic, but Ronson does little more than flirt with this idea in a couple of places throughout the work. In fact, the writing style is often jumpy enough that it could be argued that it is difficult to pin down exactly what the book was about. But my synopsis would be that the work is 'a philosophical approach on the nature of human personality and its' tendency to lie along maddeningly-difficult-to-classify continuums.'

Of course, my synopsis would sell many less books.

That said, the book is entertaining and engaging. Like "Being or Nothingness", or the "DSM-IV" (both heavily featured in this book), it leads the reader towards Narcissistic thoughts on how much of various psychotic/abnormal character traits they possess. (Or how much said characteristics apply to co-workers and in-laws.) It does challenge the reader to think about where they draw their own lines of inclusiveness and exclusiveness with regard to understanding/sympathizing with alternative personality traits and tastes.

I still couldn't shake a feeling that the book was a little hollow. The characters that Ronson was interviewing seemed to do the real 'work' in the book. I was often far more engaged when hearing directly about Tony, the psychiatric patient, or the powerful CEO with the predator statue collection than I was when left to hear Ronson's meta-analysis of their interaction. The 'filler' material occasionally seemed too unfocused or vague - possibly because Ronson decided to pull an interesting, although unconventional, two-timing trick halfway through the book: suddenly changing sides in the discussion.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
April 26, 2015
I'm a fan of pop-psych books, so I was primed to enjoy this one.

Journalist Jon Ronson was asked to investigate a mysterious, anonymous book that had been sent to numerous academics around the world. As he was following up on leads, he developed a theory that whoever sent it was somehow mentally ill — a crackpot, to use his term.

During his investigation, Ronson heard the term psychopath and learned about a test designed by Robert Hare to rate someone's level of psychopathy. Hare described psychopaths as "predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse. What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony."

Hare's test assesses a person on 20 different personality traits, including their superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, need for stimulation, pathological lying, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, early behavior problems, etc. Ronson became obsessed by this psychopath checklist and decided to interview some criminals, taking inventory of their antisocial behaviors.

As the subtitle says, Ronson took quite a journey through the madness industry, interviewing a variety of psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers and even conspiracy theorists. He also talked to Scientologists, who are famously anti-psychiatry. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes and stories, and I was fascinated by all of it.

I especially liked the discussions about the damage that psychopaths can do, both in prisons and in society. Researchers have noted that about 1 percent of the non-prison population would be classified as psychopaths, but a higher percentage of them are business and political leaders — industries that have a lot of power. In prison, about 25 percent of the inmates are psychopaths, but they have been found to cause more than 60 percent of the violent crime there.

Readers who want a straightforward book on the history of psychopathy will be disappointed; instead, the story meanders, based on whoever Ronson was interviewing that day. Ronson is witty and clever and has a pleasant writing style. I picked up this book after seeing him interviewed on several talk shows, and I am curious to look up his other works. I would recommend this to anyone interested in psychology.

Favorite Quotes
"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. 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?"

[Robert Hare said he was interested in researching the levels of psychopathy not just in prisons, but also in the finance industry] "Serial killers ruin families ... Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies."

"Psychopaths don't change ... They don't learn from punishment. The best you can hope for is that they'll eventually get too old and lazy to be bothered to offend. And they can seem impressive. Charismatic. People are dazzled. So, yeah, the real trouble starts when one makes it big in mainstream society."
Profile Image for Jafar.
728 reviews249 followers
September 1, 2011
This book is quite lame, to put it simply. I watched The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was pretty damn funny, and I thought I’d read a book by Ronson. This book neither has much to say, nor is it that entertaining. It starts off with a bizarre (and unrelated to psycopathy) “mystery” that Ronson is called upon to solve. During the unfolding of that dull “mystery” Jonson hears about the true meaning of psychopath and goes off to understand and investigate it. If you’re like Ronson and don’t know the technical definition of psychopath, this book may be mildly informative. But you can read one of Robert Hare’s books for that. Even the pop-psych The Sociopath Next Door is better than this book.

I can’t stand it when someone writes a book just to tell us how he went and studied something and learned about it. Like, who cares? I can read the original books on the subject and I don’t need to hear your story. But I guess if you’re Jon Ronson you can do that. You can decide to do a “research” on psychopathy and travel between Europe and America and meet with Robert Hare and then a few known or suspected psychopaths, and then write a lousy book about it and sell it to people so that you can pay for your next “research.”
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,103 reviews410 followers
May 16, 2011
It is self explanatory that this review will make me enemies. Fortunately, those who know me are really the only ones at risk.

Like many people, I took my first psychology class in high school and my interest was piqued. My second psychology class was during college, as was my third and fourth. I then diverged into the world of sociology which fascinated me and graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor's degree in sociology. Yay for me! Like the hundreds of psychology graduates, I was now qualified to do one of three things 1) move onto graduate school, 2) sell clothes at a department store or 3) get married and forget all about my career aspirations. Naturally, I sold clothes at JCPenney for one full year before I wanted to slit my wrists - not for suicidal ideation but simply to break up the monotony of my incredibly meaningless life. The following school year, I was admitted to a graduate program in psychology at Brigham Young University.

The following two years were full-time classes, year round then two practicums and, at last, an internship with a couple of classes in the evening. It was intense, enjoyable, and I graduated with a career plan and, frankly, a head far too big to fit through the doors. I had textbook answers and an excellent mentor who had been a pioneer in educational psychology with 30 years of private practice, running troubled youth homes, and teaching at various universities. Most people called him Dr. LaPray. I called him "Daddy." May I also mention how grateful I am to the certified borderline personalities who required long-term care. You are directly responsible for my dad being able to pay my tuition.

The best two classes I took during graduate school was how to administer and read the MMPI and the study of the diagnostic bible, the DSM III-R. I studiously purchased the very expensive book in the bookstore, took it home and read it cover to cover. By the end of the weekend, I had self-diagnosed myself with 19 serious disorders. Fortunately, class began the following Monday and the professor put the diagnoses into perspective. I have also married a social worker since then and he repeats this mantra: Many of us exhibit some of the characteristics found in the DSM. The concern is when the behavior become extreme and dictates our lives, sabotaging our ability to work or interact with others.

Unfortunately, 22 years later, I am still convinced of my own neurosis and anxiety. Ah, well. It's nice to know and embrace the real me.

So what does this have to do with Jon Ronson? Jon and I really do share a debilitating bout of anxiety. My method of understanding it was to study the crap out of it then dedicate the past 21 years to pursuing a career in helping. Also, Jon is brilliantly hilarious. Like me. If I were to be clinical, I'd guess that Mr. Ronson is overcompensating for his anxiety disorder by being brilliantly hilarious. Like me. But then maybe I am simply projecting.

Seriously, though, Mr. Ronson took a circuitous route to rooting out the therapeutic approaches in the 60's and 70's which were completely true and bizarre then went to interview a man who had created a psychopath test named Dr. Hare who empowered all who took his workshop by providing a checklist for spotting a psychopath. He met with murderers in prison wards, cold-hearted CEO's and power-controlling concierge. All psychopaths, of course. Until a friend pointed out that he was using it as a weapon rather than a diagnostic tool. This was a circular story as it led us back to a patient held at Broadmoor, a high security insane asylum for the incurable where one patient pretended to be a psychopath in order to avoid prison. Now he can't get out.

Speaking of diagnostic checklists, Mr. Ronson then explores the etiology of the DSM. My testimony of the DSM is now shaken and I'm starting to rethink my habit of taking the pocket size with me to church so I can secretly diagnose congregation members. I understood the reciprical relationship DSM has with not only insurance companies but also drug companies. Also, every revision adds more disorders that circle closer and closer to normal behavior. The explosion of autistic diagnoses has a lot more to do with including aspergers on the spectrum than the MMR vaccination and has solidified my belief the one truism -

Normal is a setting on your washing machine.

Completely fascinating read and surprisingly funny. My husband kept asking me what I was laughing about. The joke and delivery was so complicated (but easy to spot and understand), it would have been impossible to explain. I just gave him the book when I was finished. Really enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
432 reviews1,387 followers
January 13, 2020
It's always a joy to follow Jon Ronson on his adventures: his stories are as much about his rich internal landscape as they are about the fascinating people he encounters. In The Psychopath Test, Ronson explores the labels we give some of the most dangerous members of society, the roughly 1% of the population who are psychopaths, sociopaths, or have antisocial personality disorder (apparently these all describe the same thing). Where do those labels come from? Who gets to write the book on mental disorders (the DSM)? How do we protect potential victims from the actions of psychopaths? Can they be rehabilitated? Do we ever overstep our bounds in enforcement? What does psychopathy look like in the business world? Can you be just a little bit psychopathic? And of course, most interesting to the reader: how do you identify a psychopath? Ronson addresses these questions without offering definitive answers, but provides plenty of food for thought, all offered with candor and humor. His delivery is great, so I recommend the audio book as well.
Profile Image for Caroline.
506 reviews586 followers
May 20, 2015

This review contains spoilers

This is an hilarious book by a wonderful writer. He injects himself into the story in a way not dissimilar to Bill Bryson. It had me bellowing with laughter – laughing at him, with him and at the strange and startling anecdotes that unfurled themselves one after another as the book went on. This book is a glorious example of truth being stranger than fiction…

Okay, so that is one aspect of the story. The other aspect is that he dealt with some important issues. In this book he was investigating insanity, and the ways in which we try and describe it and deal with it in our society. Beneath his rather pick and mix approach he covered a lot of ground.

Here are some of the snips that I picked up from reading the book.

*As we well know, journalists often seek mad or neurotic people, on the grounds they make for exciting reading and viewing. In the book Ronson interviews someone who used to work for a reality television show. She admitted that when they interviewed potential subjects for the programme they would ask them what medication they were on. No medication meant they were too sane. Medication for schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder was a bit too serious. Prozac and meds on that sort of level were perfect, and a good criteria for inviting people onto the show.

* Diagnoses of mental illnesses have increased greatly in recent years, much to the joy of pharmaceutical companies. This can perhaps most easily be seen in the increased diagnosis of ADHD, Childhood bi-polar disorder (which didn’t exist at all as a diagnosis a few years ago), and autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. For instance Ronson says that when he was a child, less than one in two thousand children was diagnosed with autism - now the diagnosis is greater than one in a hundred.

*There is also a great increase in the number of different diagnoses. The DSM (the standard psychiatric textbook of checklists for diagnosing mental illnesses), used to be 65 pages long. In 1980 it came out at 494 pages. Whilst many people are concerned about the medicalization of previously unlisted syndromes, Ronson is partly sympathetic to the increase, stressing that they are usually very extreme manifestations of perhaps ordinary-sounding problems. On the other hand he notes that the biggest built up new diagnoses is on the edges of normality, or what most would consider normal behaviours.

*The standard checklist for psychopaths, used by psychiatrists was designed by a Canadian called Bob Hare in 1990.

He also runs courses to teach people how to use his checklist, and he is concerned that some people – professional people - are very inadequate in the way that they use it.

*In the UK people diagnosed as psychopaths used to be let back out into the community after serving their prison sentences – the law said only patients with mental disorders that could be treated could be detained beyond their prison sentences, and psychopaths were considered untreatable, and were therefore set free. Then in 1996 Lin Russell and her daughter Megan were murdered by a known psychopath called Michael Stone. As a result of this, in the same year as the murders, a series of ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Units' were opened, basically to house psychopaths, four for men and one for women.

”The official line was that these were places to treat psychopaths (with cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-libidinous drugs – chemical castrations – for the sexual ones), to teach them how to manage their psychopathy with a view to one day theoretically sending them back out into the world as a safe and productive people. But the widespread theory was the whole thing was in fact a scheme to keep psychopaths locked up for life”.

*Many would argue that it is likely that a few of our most successful businessmen are psychopaths, or that others show psychopathic traits. Ronson uses Al Dunlap as a study, a businessman with a history of callous firing of his employees, as someone who might possibly fit this profile.


This book was a great read. I read it in two sessions, finding it almost impossible to put it down. It's funny and serious, and filled with stories that will make your eyeballs throb (in a nice way). I am now a keen Jon Ronson fan, and cannot wait to read his other books. Highly recommended.

Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews673 followers
July 26, 2015
Jon Ronson takes the reader on a journey into madness. What starts as a light-hearted investigation into a set of books sent to academics around the world, proceeds to be an investigation into aspects of the mental disease industry. What is a psychopath? How is medication for mental diseases used? Each chapter is a different story about an aspect of how mental disease has been treated in the past and currently. There are stories that will make you wonder, stories to make you laugh and stories that will chill you to the bone.

I listened to this on audiobook read by the author. Robson has a distinctive voice, something like Julian Clary, and it does take a few minutes to get used to. But in the long-term I found his voice soothing and his reading of his own work is natural, flowing and humorous. He knows where to emphasise for humour and emotional effect.

I have never heard of Ronson before. I saw this book mentioned by a favourite science author, Brian Clegg, and chose it based upon his thumbs up. I am glad I did. It was a special listen that can be likened to other authors and documentary makers like Louis Theroux, Mary Roach and Will Storr. It is a journalistic look at the mental illness system, written to provoke thought and to entertain. I mention this sometimes these types of books are criticised that they are not a serious and valid piece of research to draw conclusions from. These types of books and documentaries never are - they play a different role.

I enjoyed this thoroughly for its humour, the fascinating stories and Ronson's perspective. Highly recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Will Storr.
Profile Image for Edgarr Alien Pooh.
285 reviews188 followers
April 2, 2023
WOW, this was an enjoyable read. The book starts out with Ronson trying to unravel a mysterious puzzle sent to many intellectuals around the world but this shoots off on a tangent as Jon starts to develop an interest in psychopaths, what makes them so, and how one is described.

An eye-opening account of the incorrectly diagnosed, the dramatic increase in childhood diagnoses' of ADD and ADHD, and the ease with which patients can be declared bipolar.

But it's the conversations with those classed as psychopaths that really drive this book. The total lack of empathy, the tests devised and the failures of psychiatrists to accurately differentiate psychosis from other bizarre behaviors.

Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews534 followers
July 20, 2011
A book about psychopaths that I actually liked, minor miracle, and that made me think a lot about compassion.

Okay, qualifications – the book is more about “the madness industry” – the complex of media and medicine and science and big pharma and fucking weirdness that informs our understanding of people who are mad. It’s a wandering book, tracking Ronson’s haphazard introduction to psychopathy, to spotting psychopaths, and then onto a survey of madness criminal, madness florid and newsworthy, madness very sad. It’s about the stigma and sexiness of madness – Ronson is wondering on a meta level, as a journalist, why some people’s madness is culturally fascinating and others’ is repulsive. He manages to talk about the utterly crap job psychiatry does at diagnostics and some of the fringiest of the fringe elements of conspiracy theory with the same inquisitive interest. It’s a really great book; I think the one major point Ronson missed was failing to really dig in to the validity of our diagnostic categorizations. He wonders how many people are “mad” by virtue of being too difficult, too inconveniently odd, but misses the deeper point that socioeconomics and race play an enormous and terrifying role in diagnostic categorization.

Anyway, who talks about books in book reviews anymore?

One of my favorite moments here was when Ronson, becoming a little alarmed and disenchanted by the power of the diagnostician, says to someone that it sounds like he’s talking about these people – psychopaths – like they aren’t human. His interlocutor doesn’t really know how to answer that, because it’s absolutely true.

And yes. Yes yes yes, this is what it is like. Psychiatric professionals, true crime authors, journalists, cop shows – they talk about psychopaths like they are animals, and often like they should be put down. And when someone gets uncomfortable with this, the response is usually something like, “well, but he doesn’t have any compassion for you.” Because psychopaths don’t, generally – that’s pretty much the definition, right? Inability to connect, inability to learn from adverse stimuli – an inability to learn social norms more bluntly, a lack of understanding of others’s pain, sometimes enjoyment of it.

And I just . . . that’s not my definition of compassion. It doesn’t exist just for the object. I could get into all the humanist and philosophical reasons, but I imagine someone smarter has done this better (I’m pretty sure there’s an entire subgenre of European postwar writing on this). My point is even woo-wooier.

I know that Ashley X cannot appreciate or understand my compassion for her and the terrible thing that was done to her, but I’ve spent years giving it while respected academics explain in the New York Times why I shouldn’t, why she wasn’t wronged at all because the rules don’t apply to her. She’s different. She’s less than human – it’s not even subtext for some people in this argument.

Compassion can be transgressive, and it can definitely be a political act.

And I have a crazy theory that sometime in the next few hundred years, our treatment of criminals is going to become one of those society-redefining arguments. Our justice system is a travesty of racial and economic oppression, a massive financial drain, and largely ineffective. We punish like no one’s business, and funny thing, it doesn’t really work. Just makes people feel good. And at the same time we’re just barely beginning to muck about in the sort of neuro-fiddling science that might, one day, let us, you know, actually have a corrections system. (And won’t that be a whole new and scary can of worms). And sometime in the next few centuries these things are going to collide, and we’re going to have one hell of a cultural paroxysm about, well. About how we have no compassion for those with no compassion.

At least I really hope so.
Profile Image for Chris_P.
382 reviews270 followers
June 24, 2016
This was a quite different book than I thought it would be when I first discovered it. Jon Ronson doesn't seem to follow the conventions of writing a study. In fact, it's non-fiction but definitely reads like fiction.

Many thoughts passed through my head as I was reading it but what I found more disturbing was the realization that, more or less, people are turning into psychopaths. Let me explain. Here is the Hare PCL-R Checklist which is used to decide whether an individual is a psychopath.
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Item 4: Pathological lying
Item 5: Conning/manipulative
Item 6: Lack of remorse or guilt
Item 7: Shallow affect
Item 8: Callous/lack of empathy
Item 9: Parasitic lifestyle
Item 10: Poor behavioral controls
Item 11: Promiscuous sexual behavior
Item 12: Early behavior problems
Item 13: Lack of realistic long-term goals
Item 14: Impulsivity
Item 15: Irresponsibility
Item 16: Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Item 17: Many short-term marital relationships
Item 18: Juvenile delinquency
Item 19: Revocation of conditional release
Item 20: Criminal versatility

Now, society promotes a certain self-centered style, with everything revolving around how good-looking one should be, how talented and how succesful and of course how much money one makes in order to be able to buy more and more... stuff. One of the teenagers' favorite pastime activities is taking self-ies and posting them online in order to get "likes" and thus gain a certain respectability among their "friends" in order to feel good. Meanwhile, the sense of responsibility toward the others and the common welfare is ignored. In fact, most virtues seem to be sacrificed in the name of egotism. Additionally, we are so much exposed to death through cinema and the media, that it takes a lot for one to be shocked nowadays. Horror films have become so graphic, that the image of a gutted person can hardly make us twitch anymore. A serious result of all this (and possibly many more) is the fact that we can watch thousands of people dying of hunger and poverty (not to mention the immigrants getting drowned in the sea while trying to get away from a war sponsored and encouraged by the "civilized" west) from the comfort of our living rooms and simply shake our heads before switching to the news about beyonce's latest appearance. Of course, when there's a terrorist attack in the US or France we are all in grief and show our sympathy by putting flags on our facebook accounts. What I'm trying to say is that people are being taught to be self-absorbed and completely lacking empathy. That is why we can continue our parasitic lifestyle and not care about the misery that exists right next to our fancy shops and about what our economy does to certain, less priviledged parts of the world. While there are far more conditions that need to be fulfilled for one to be called a psychopath, the modern human model that's being promoted has a few upsetting characteristics. Food for thought, that's all.

All the above derived from my personal process of what I read in Ronson's book and that's what I liked most about it: the fact that it lets the readers make their own conclusions. It's in no way patronizing. Although the title may imply that it's a book about psychopaths, it actually concerns a lot of aspects of human psychology and how psychiatrists approach certain issues, while the writing style remains witty and gripping at all times without trying to support or go against anything and anyone. All conclusions is for the reader to make.

Very interesting read.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,218 reviews1,962 followers
November 5, 2012
Reads very easily and is well written in a journalistic sort of way. Ronson meanders through the mental health industry in a rather idiosyncratic way. The basis of the book concerns the psychopath checklist developed by Hare and Ronson manages to get himself invited into various high secuity institutions to talk to various inmates. His wanderings extend to a brief look at diagnosis of bi-polar in childhood and some thoughts on the medication industry. The growth of the DSM system is explained and the rise of labelling almost everything from mild irritation to an offbeat way of looking at the world as a psychiatric disorder.
I think Ronson has produced an interesting account of his experiences, with perhaps a little too much of himself in it. However, for me there is a big but. There is nothing here about the social construction of madness, which would question an empirical-behaviourist approach. To reduce psychopathy to a chemical reaction (or not) in the brain is limiting; although I did appreciate the idea that real madness is at the top of large corproations and banking.
A dose of Szasz's ideas at this point would be helpful; he questioned the whole basis of psychiatry and the madness industry. Szasz argued that no behaviour or misbehaviour could be classified as a disease and cited the idea that women who did not conform or bend to men's will were labelled as hysterics. Szasz saw psychiatrists as modern day priests and psychiatry as a modern religion. He is not alone in questioning the mental health edifice; Foucault and Goffman did likewise. This more radical type of questioning was not present in Ronson's book; but I enjoyed it for what it was; I would just have liked a deeper analysis
Profile Image for Justin.
79 reviews29 followers
June 23, 2011
I've never read anything by Jon Ronson so I wasn't sure what to expect. I heard an interview with him about this book and was fascinated by the subject matter. I was not disappointed, this book is extremely interesting. I like Ronson's style a great deal, and his writing is very approachable. I came to respect him a lot for his ability to acknowledge his weaknesses and then go forward despite them.

Ronson has a great ability in communicating his perspective to the reader. He is very clear about his own biases and often accounts for them through out the novel. It was refreshing to have an author admit that he was he was becoming overzealous with his knowledge of psychopaths. Secretly diagnosing everyone around him, often incorrectly.

The overall message to the book is a little unclear. The only message I got from it is that the world is full of crazy people, who cannot help how they are, they cannot be "fixed", and they have a huge impact on our society. Not exactly mind shattering, but it's the "cannot be fixed" part I think Ronson struggles with the most through out his journey.

This is a must read for anyone interested in Psychology. If you are like me and have general fascination with the odd and the unusual, you will like this a great deal. This as a nice break from my usual regimen of Fantasy.
Profile Image for Alina.
771 reviews265 followers
July 31, 2022
Even if I found the subject quite interesting and Ronson writing fluent and easy to read, I too often felt the book was all over the place and failing to better follow a logical narrative thread.
Profile Image for N.
838 reviews195 followers
August 5, 2011
The non-fiction genre can basically be divided into two groups: mediocre books by experts; well-written books by non-experts. I’d normally err on the side of wanting to read the latter kind of book, because who the hell wants to endure shitty prose? However, non-experts writing about a highly complicated subject matter is not without its pitfalls.

Imagine, say, a journalist wandering into a woman’s home, observing her kids for a few minutes and drawing the conclusion that they’ve been wrongly diagnosed as bipolar. The journalist – someone completely outside the medical profession – effectively accuses the mother of being a hysterical who can’t discipline her kids and so pumps them full of drugs instead.

That’s what Jon Ronson does in The Psychopath Test.

I mean, maybe Ronson is right and these kids aren’t bipolar, but since he has a BA in Media Studies (not a doctorate in Psychology), his opinion is worth about as much as that of my pet goldfish.

It’s not that The Psychopath Test isn’t diverting fare. It’s funny in places and there’s none of the turgid prose you might expect from an academic. But there’s really no there there.

Ronson boasts the book’s lack of structure proudly. This was a journey he took, whimsically bouncing from subject to subject (and from country to country), but unfortunately the end result is just a mess. It’s not really about psychopaths, because Ronson wanders off that subject into the aforementioned bipolar stuff, by way of some conspiracy theory tosh that he lifted from his previous book, and yet another rehash of Paul Britton’s undoing.

Shouldn’t journalists be searching for the truth?

Ronson just seems like he’s searching for the next thing he can spin into a witty book in order to earn his next paycheck.
Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews403 followers
October 30, 2019
I just love Jon Ronson! I adore his unique approach of curiosity blended with what comes across as a genuine sense of kindness and empathy, almost an innate desire to understand and uncover, but in the best possible way. Listening to him read his book, particularly his interviews and personal thoughts, was highly entertaining.
In terms of content, it was odd and interesting.
4 stars
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