Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review: "The Psychopath Test"

Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Riverhead, 2011) is a sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, but always thought-provoking look at psychology and psychopathy in all its aspects: history, treatment, diagnosis, you name it. If you listen to "This American Life" you might remember a segment Ronson did recently on meeting "Tony," an inmate at Broadmoor who claimed to have faked madness to get committed but found it must harder to convince doctors he was sane when he realized he wanted to get out; that segment is given in its full form here, but Ronson goes much beyond Tony's story.

Through meetings with psychopathy researchers past and present, skeptics of current diagnoses and treatments for psychopathy (including leaders of the Scientologist movement), Ronson digs deeply into the field, even going so far as to learn from a prominent researcher how to diagnose psychopaths on his own (a "power," he quickly discovers, that leads to some pretty disturbing thoughts and discoveries about himself).

Ronson's got a knack for finding fascinating interview subjects, from a retired CEO who enjoyed firing people and populates his home with statues of predatory animals, to criminal profilers and unorthodox (to put it mildly) researchers, to the editors of the DSM, he includes discussions with a wide range of folks running the whole gamut of viewpoints on current psychopathy.

From the first chapter (which involves Ronson's investigation into a bizarre hoax) to the last pages (where he muses on the possible over-diagnosis and over-medication of children), The Psychopath Test is engaging and certainly worth a read as he considers the important questions of just what madness is, and who gets to decide?

No comments: