The Psychopath Test

What a strange loop, this book.

No one covers eccentric personalities like Jon Ronson. I first heard the author reading some of his work on This American Life, way back when it was only a radio show before it was a podcast. His voice takes some getting used to, but it matches his subject matter each time. He’s an obsessive with an anxious edge. He sounds fragile, but he’s dogged. You’d have to be to dig this deeply into the topic of psychosis in America.

The Psychopath Test is a rambling exotic trip through multiple avenues of the insanity business. As per typical Jon Ronson, his book doesn’t have a distinct agenda; he’s not trying to take down the psychiatry industry or expose scandal and controversy. Rather, he introduces us to a host of bizarre and delightful characters to highlight a world that most of us know nothing about yet is deeply entrenched in our society.

For instance, we start with Douglas Hofstadter’s eerie puzzling 1970s work “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” and immediately race through the following landmarks: false confessions, Scientology, serial killers, 9/11  Truthers 1, anti-vaxxers 2, war criminals, pharmaceuticals. I’m likely forgetting some. Despite this varied and bursting list, Ronson doesn’t short shrift any of the topics. A seemingly unconnected grouping of references actually coalesces in whimsical fashion, each getting its due attention.

I leave you with some wonderful snippets from Ronson’s book.

“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?”
― Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

“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, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

“I wondered if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.”
― Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

Aside: Did you catch my Hofstadter reference at the beginning of this review?

Footnotes

  1. People who believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job. It’s notable that I write this review today on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
  2. People who believe that vaccines cause autism, though thoroughly debunked.

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