The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson starts off with the curious story of Ronson, an investigative reporter, being called upon to look into the mysterious circulation of an odd manuscript and an equally odd note among leading neurologists around the world. He quickly gets to the bottom of what must surely be a hoax, but is particularly struck by how one act of madness was able galvanize the behavior of an entire community of people into paranoia and conspiracy theory. Looking to study further how extreme individual behavior ends in widespread behavioral changes in the masses, Ronson tumbles into studying psychopathy – its development as an untreatable mental illness in the psychiatric community, fascinating individual cases, failed cures and the problematic nature of diagnosis.
The Psychopath Test is a fun, smart read. Ronson’s narrative, of which he is heavily apart, examines both the crazy and the attendant rise of the psychiatric industry, acting as an exposé of sorts on the validity of the research and tools used to treat mental illness. We don’t often think about it, but all of the processes and treatments that we take for granted are very much a work in progress. Ronson’s book hammers home the point that accepted methods are constantly in flux as they are re-evaluated, improved, and sometimes discarded altogether. There is a moving target on what we think of as mental illness and also on the way we understand it. Ronson relates harrowing and tragic studies that underscore how dangerous missteps can be in the field.
The Psychopath Test is a fascinating look at the progression of psychopathy and psychiatry, and like I said when I first mentioned it here on the blog, it is easy to tear through at at rapid pace. Anyone interested in either psychopaths or psychiatrists, or those wanting to pick up a few quick tricks to diagnose family and friends will enjoy this winning, comprehensive and easily comprehensible read.