Quirky is the best word I can find for this book. It opens with a mystery book, sent to various neurologists, by an anonymous sender, who Ronsen tracks down. After that, it's an enjoyable ride through psycho-land to meet Bob Hare, the leading world expert on the test for psychopathy - the Hare test, and then to meet and interview a series of gangsters, hatchet-CEOs, and other possible psychopaths to see if they fit the pattern.
However, Ronsen admits after a while that he starts seeing psychopaths everywhere... And it might be sending him a bit odd.
This is fun, with a serious message, and I liked Jon Ronsen as the self effacing narrator and author. The book contains many facts and references to other reading on this subject, while never getting boorish. I winced several times with embarrassment at his interview style, openly asking his subjects intimate details to gauge their psychopathy. The opening chapters are unusual, and have little to do with psychopathy, with references to the nerd classic "Esher, Goedel, Bach".
Overall however, i learned a lot about Psychopathy, DSM-4 and psychiatry, without seeming to. Best of all I liked Jon's self conscious admission that looking for psychopaths might just be creating non-human aliens in his own mind.
I've long been a fan of Ronson's work. He's a rare breed of journalist these days - one who will spend years researching a topic - and this commitment shows. The Psychopath Test is about his investigations into what a psychopath is and how psychopaths have been perceived. Characteristically, the investigation leads Ronson to question his own behaviour as an investigator and the integrity of journalism in general. It's a thoughtful and humane book.
My only criticism is that Ronson repeats some points several times throughout the book. My suspicion is that this might have been more necessary in print than it is in audio. It's mildly annoying in an audiobook, but hardly a dealbreaker.
Ronson isn't an actor and this is evident from his reading. I think this adds to the charm of the book: its nice to hear him describe his own anxieties in his own slightly anxious voice. That's what the book's about, after all.
The blurb for this book says it is "utterly compelling". Those were precisely the words I wanted to use to describe this book, so I've rather had the wind taken out of my sails.
I found this book especially interesting as I and family members have experienced mental illness. I was dumbfounded by the story of how the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental health problems was put together. However, that's by no means to say that personal mental misfortune is necessary to be fascinated by The Psychopath Test.
Ronson makes the process of journalism rather more transparent than other writers and his thoughts and feelings are often to the fore. His journeys to meet people are described and his thought processes are laid out as he interviews them. I find that interesting as someone who occasionally harbours journalistic pretensions, but I think anyone would enjoy getting some insight into how journalism is carried out.
If you're already a fan of Jon Ronson then I think you will be delighted by this. I would warn that it is a fair bit darker than his other books. You may guess that to be probable from the subject matter. There's fewer quips. But it is as interesting as his other work.
If you're new to Ronson I'd probably recommend "Them: Adventures With Extremists" though I don't know if that comes in an audio version. But if you're curious about this book in particular for any reason then please do make the leap and get downloading. You won't regret it.
In the book you are given a widely used checklist of traits that are thought to be part of a psychopaths make-up. One thing that you'll almost certainly find yourself doing is asking yourself: "do I know any psychopaths?" I am pleased to say I don't think I do. But with 1% of people thought to be psychopaths (rising to 3-4% as you reach the higher echelons of income and status) you may well find that you do.
When I initially read the blurb for this book I thought it was a novel, as it sounds a lot like one of those books by Carlos Ruiz, with important books at the centre of a mystery, It's not a novel, although it contains plenty of material that would make a good one.
I looked forward to hearing about who he was going to talk to next, and whether they would turn out to be an actual psychopath. I would have liked to have heard more about psychopaths in industry, and whether David Icke might be onto something. It is a little bit superficial, but I wasn't looking for an academic text, I like audio books in particular with a bit of a lighter tone.
The book is about the author's encounters with people who might or might not be psychopaths, how he interacts with them, and how he feels about them. There is a a little bit of history and background, but most of the time he refrains from any exposition, relying on straightforward accounts of what happened when he met these people, and leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
There is, as another reviewer said, a certain amount of repetition. There is also an awful lot of "I said", "he said", which I think is the author's writing style, and didn't annoy me, but I did notice it. I thought it lost focus towards the end, and became more about madness in general that psychopaths in particular.
However, none of the negatives spoiled it for me, I enjoyed listening to the author read his own book, I wish more would.
If you are interested in this, look out for the Horizon program "Are you good or Evil", on BBC. It's not available at the moment, (Sept 2011), but I am sure it will be repeated.
I found the subject interesting, and the book was engagingly written and told, and I am coming to believe that the narrator can make or break an audio book.
A great listen and all the more so for Jon's own excitable voice reading the text. No fear here of the narrator ruining the book, it's an enhancement for sure. Anyone who is a fan of his BBC Radio 4 show will be familiar with his unique tone and here is no exception.
His journey through the book is interesting as always, as he gets to grips with the nature of pyscopathy. A joy! I did the test, I reckon I'm safe.
If only Men Who Stare At Goats was narrated by him.
This is one of the best non fiction books I have read for a long time. I love the honesty of Jon Ronson as he explores the world of psychiatry. Gripping and thought provoking. If you have any interest in the mind and the human condition you should enjoy this. A great read.
Jon Ronson reads The Psychopath Test himself in a deadpan tone that can be interpreted as you wish. Is he ironic, scared, appalled or simply as mystified as the rest of us? His investigation is a hunt for judgement, but the story is as full of triumph and disappointment as any thriller.
Ronson's writing is vivid to the eye, which is what you want from an audiobook. He snakes unstoppably through the world of the apparently sane and the apparently mad and the ground shifts beneath your feet. He raises questions, makes sense of the bizarre, exposes the sinister and insensitive, and does it all elegantly and with humour. I love this audiobook.
It's always a bit of a gamble reading something in your own line of work and I generally expect to be a bit irritated. I was a bit irritated occasionally when Jon Robson seemed to see psychopathy, developmental disorders, eccentricity, psychosis, low mood, ptsd etc etc as one big mass of 'madness', but in fairness, he is a journalist, not a psychologist and he did tease out many of the interesting issues that we all ponder too. I was never totally clear what the book was supposed to be about. It certainly isn't just about psychopathy, but it's probably all the better for that. All in all I'd recommend it - but if you're not a mental health professional and you're particularly interested in an issue he brings up, do do your own research as well.
Ronson reviews the classic test for psychopathy and reappraises it, acknowledging its complexity and the dangers of simply using it to pigeonhole people. An intriguing appraisal, and well performed (if you like JRs somewhat flat delivery.)