Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test – A journey through the madness industry, review
Narrated by: Jon Ronson
Length: 7 hrs and 33 mins
Release date: 05-12-11
Recommended by a friend of mine, who stated ‘I loved that, devoured it…you absolutely should read it. ‘
When I looked into it, I found that it was by an author I had listened to before. Jon Ronson, who did <The Butterfly Effect> which was an audible series that follows the impact of Pornography on the internet, and found that he was also responsible for the book and movie <The Men Who Stare at Goats> I was definitely intrigued.
So what’s the book about?
Here’s the publishers summary:
The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson’s exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world’s top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths, teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little tell-tale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power.
He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he’s sane and certainly not a psychopath. Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.
©2011 Jon Ronson (P)2011 Tantor
I think the summary by the author himself covers it really well.
The style of writing
This is a weird one, and I can understand that it won’t be for everyone. But Jon Ronson’s mind seems to be fairly erratic. He obviously does a lot of research and is a personable character so people open up to him more than they probably would to other people, and as such he follows these strange breadcrumbs to the next unlikely part of the journey.
I can only imagine that he must have been led down a few dead ends, and a few absolutely weird tangents, and this book is the culmination of a story that took years to write rather than following a direct path to an inevitable conclusion.
It seems nothing is inevitable in the journey he is taking, and nothing is direct. This writing style and story telling is mirrored in his other works, <The Butterfly Effect> & <Men Who Stare At Goats>. But… and this is important, it makes for a much more light-hearted and flowy story.
The fact that Jon Ronson narrates it himself is fantastic. It’s his work so he knows when to add the right inflections and stress certain points.
Also Ronson’s voice like I said above sounds very personable, he speaks in a light, flowy, almost anticipatory/ curious way. Its just a pleasure to hear him describing things because this with the style of writing, truly feels like you’re discovering all of this with him as he goes along.
Some Interesting points
So as the summary states, Ronson interviews a CEO of a major corporation.
This is fantastic.
The CEO turns out to be Al Dunlap, who was the CEO of Sunbeam. Sunbeam is an American company that makes electric home appliances. Dunlap took over in 1996 (the company had been in business since 1910 and employed hundreds if not thousands of people across America.
This is one of these things of…who is Al Dunlap? Well it depends which perspective you’re looking at it from.
You could look at him and say, he was a ruthless businessman & he took near failing companies and turned them around. Correct. In the short-term. And knowing that most of American business seems to be about short-term wins, then you could see this guy as a great businessman.
Then, on the flip-side, if you take into account ALL of the information and don’t just look at it over the short-term you’ll find that he was actually a terrible, terrible person.
From Wikipedia – ‘He is best known as a turnaround specialist and professional down-sizer, although it was later discovered that his reputed turnarounds were elaborate frauds. ‘
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunbeam_Products#Fraud_investigation_&_bankruptcy link for Sunbeam and how that whole thing came about.
Essentially Jon Ronson arranges an interview with the guy and finds out that he enjoyed firing people, and would come up with elaborate ways of doing so.
He had a grandiose sense of self worth, a moment very cliché as he’s standing underneath a giant oil painting of himself. And as they have a quick tour of the house Ronson discovers that the guy is obsessed with predators and has several statues of tigers, eagles, bears etc around his house and even 2 miniature sharks in a fish tank.
Overall it is a pretty funny interview as he gets full marks in the psychopath test and ends up turning it around to be about leadership and business sense.
http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2025898_2025900_2026107,00.html A short article, where you can even see the guy sitting under a giant picture of a lion.
Need to read the book <Snakes in Suits> which apparently also deals with this kind of case. (Ruthless businessmen/ women)
An interview with Shaun Thornton who was eventually fired for giving LSD to 25 psychopaths simultaneously.
And the interviews with a man committed to a mental institute because he lied and claimed he was insane at 1st, only to find out that when the Psychopath test was applied they really did find him to be ‘a psychopath’ and that instead of a 6 year initial sentence, he ended up severing almost 18 years in the place.
Throughout the whole ordeal, this character known as ‘Tony’, his real name is not given because of the potential negative effects if he got out and had to find employment. He even talks to some members of the Church of Scientology who comes across as reasonable and rational people and who gives Ronson the 1st clue that leads him down the psychopath test rabbit hole.
This book is fascinating, its an easy read, and moreover, it’s a pleasure to read. The examples given and the journey that you’re taken on is well worth it.
You end up asking the question.. I wonder how many psychopaths are out there, but we don’t notice them as much because they found their niche in which to thrive.