Similar to the only other non-fiction book I've ever voluntarily read, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Psychopath Test ends up reading like someone's greatly-researched train of thought, this time on the subject of insanity and the different ways in which it permeates through our society. Ronson starts by researching the strange book mentioned in the summary, perpetrated by a man he comes to believe might be "a little mad", and from there his journey is set off by a strange realization: that the actions of one, potentially crazy Swedish man set off such a wide-reaching chain reaction that it affected dozens of scientists around the world - affected them to so much that they found one another through the internet, met in person, and ultimately reached out to him, a completely unrelated journalist, to help solve the mystery. The far-reaching actions of one odd man reminded Ronson of the idea put forth by psychiatrists that it is the psychopaths who really "make the world go round", and bolstered by the impact of anxiety - his own little form of madness - on his daily life, Ronson is inspired to find out just how much madness affects what he'd previously assumed to be our "rational society".
It's a nifty concept, and Ronson's narrative is engrossing. It reads so much like a novel - and some of the stories, circumstances, and conversations recounted are so outlandish - that I occasionally had to do a mental double-take and remind myself that this was a non-fiction title. I mean, when you hear stories of a man imprisoned in an ultra-secure mental health facility with notorious serial killers and rapists because he mimicked various movie portrayals of insanity to avoid jail time, or a CEO who resides in a palatial estate filled with giant gold statues of predators and life-size portraits of himself, they seem too bizarre and improbable and, in the latter case, cartoonish to be true, right? And yet.
I expected the book to consist mostly of Ronson's expeditions into the corporate world to interview and perhaps weed out the psychopaths, but in fact only one chapter or so is devoted to that sort of interview - the previously mentioned predator-adoring CEO. The rest of the book progresses from a singular focus on psychopathy (or sociopath...y?) - what it means, the history of its progression as a recognized illness, some of the earlier, more bizarre treatments, and of course, Ronson's introduction to and instruction in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (the titular Psychopath Test), by the man who created it, Robert D. Hare.
From there, though, it takes an interesting turn...
Read more at You're Killing.Us