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The Psychopath Test

A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Written by: Jon Ronson
Narrated by: Jon Ronson
Length: 7 hrs and 33 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (76 ratings)

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Publisher's 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 telltale 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

What the critics say

"Engrossing.... This book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through 'the madness business.'" ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Psychopath Test

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psychopath test

I loved it! enjoyed the little details in the book some parts near the end are a little dull but overall really enjoyed the book

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Fantastic storytelling

Doesn't quite deliver on the promise of whether psychopaths rule the world or not, but I still loved this book. It is storytelling journalism at its finest and I listened intently to every word!

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Outstanding

Am I a psychopath?? Not according to Jon, what an amazing story teller.. get this book, narrated by him with his little welsh accent

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    5 out of 5 stars

Very informative and interesting story

This book was well written and the writter knows how to grap the audience attention with his story telling.

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A journey of discovery that’s just a little scary

I have many of Jon Ronson’s books and of all of them this is by far my favourite. When you begin the book the story seems to be about a man named Tony who is in a institution for the criminally mentally ill. Tony has a contact who tells him that this man was wrongly placed there as he faked a mental illness to get in. When Ron meets Tony he seems quite normal... to Ron. He explains how he made up a bunch of mental illnesses and deranged things to say to get off his charge from watching movies and reading. He believed after getting put in the institute that he could just act normal and then get set free. However it was a long period and he was still there. Tony allowed Jon to speak to his doctors who told Ron that they had not fallen for his tricks but in assessing him had discovered characteristics of a psychopath. Now as someone who is very interested in mental illness, highly educated in the field and even does therapy with individuals who have a multitude of mental illnesses I feel the need to clear something up. This book is funny, interesting, scary at times and full of all kinds of ideas. While psychopaths were something you could call a person and even learn to identify we use the term antisocial personality disorder now. This disorder requires a certified mental health professional to diagnose and regular people can’t go take seminars to pick them out. It takes many years of university coupled with practicim work with real people to learn how to truly diagnose a person with a mental illness. That said the book is still very entertaining. So at this point Jon has heard from the doctors that they believe Tony is a psychopath and they have been keeping him for his full jail time because he is an actual danger given that he hurt someone and tried to trick his way out. This sparks an interest in Jon in what a psychopath is. He starts to look into it a discovers a seminar you can take to identify them and decides this is a great step in his journey to discover who they are and what that means.

While on his path of discovery he comes across a very wealthy couple that he believes are psychopaths and decides to go meet and interview them. They live a very over the top, narcissistic and glib lifestyle. Jon paints a picture of two people who are out of touch with compassion, empathy and the ability to see how they could do better things with their wealth and influence. Jon decides to test the waters and gives the traits of a psychopath of which you must meet a set amount to be considered one. The man plays along happily and seems unphased when it becomes clear he fits a psychopath perfectly. He even seems proud and puffs out his chest like a peacock. Along the way Jon meets many individuals that fit the traits of a psychopath and discovers that unlike what the movies try to sell you there are possibly millions of psychopaths in America that do not kill people. They function well in society and actually end up in very high positions like CEO’s. Psychopaths make perfect CEO’s as they take pleasure in firing people and making cuts. What many people stress about in higher positions they strive with. This ends up making companies a lot of money for the higher ups but makes life very difficult for the mid to low level employees who get the pay cuts and are expendable to the CEO’s. The companies believe it makes them the most money but it doesn’t. It’s been proven that companies who treat their employees well and pay them properly get more work productively and s much better product. What are we to do about the CEO’s and the politians that are psychopaths and effect in such a devastating way the country and it’s people? No time is this book more poignant than now with Trump as President. Trump is so clearly an antisocial personality and he runs America. Should jobs like CEO or high level politics come with a mental health assessment? I think in reading this book you might just think so. Saying this people with mental illness are still people and they can do some very extraordinary things.

This book takes you on an emotional roller coaster and leaves you questioning where that line really should be. I personally believe that it is worth a read because it really makes you think, it’s very funny and interesting all at the same time. We should all aim to learn something new everyday and to keep broadening our minds. Education is the way to end so much hate and ignorance in this world. Jon Ronson always writes about subjects that are a little bit scary to think about but does it in a funny and relatable way. Jon Ronson has a nervous personality and is a bit of a worrier. Part of his charm is his relatability to the average person. There’s always a sense of humour in hearing about a man who’s nervous to leave his house during the day meeting a dangerous criminal or going by himself to the home of someone he believes to be a psychopath but also has more money than most banks to tell him that Jon believes he’s a psychopath. You keep wondering what will Jon get up to next and how does he keep agreeing to be in these situations. I giggle often to myself while reading this or I worry for him hoping nothing bad happened. He truly brings you on a journey that is all his own but makes you feel like it is yours as well. I’ve told you only a fraction of what’s in his book and I’ve tried to not spoil anything for you. For me this book is one I have read twice and I will definitely read again and again.

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keep coming back to this one

Beginning with, The Men who Stare at Goats (which still amazes me is true) I have been a huge fan of Jon Ronson, and have tore through everything I can find of his work.

But The Psychopath Test is the one I keep returning to. Like Jon I was briefly obsessed with trying to diagnose people I knew with this test. But as he moves on begins to look inwardly.

The flow of the book is amazing. Both funny and disturbing, due to Jon's narration and style. I think I would be very disappointed if anyone but Jon narrated any of his future work.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert L.
  • 2012-01-02

Interesting but wandering

The book is constructed like a travelogue of a journey. The author arrives in one spot and then pursues each thing that catches his interest without any clear plan. This makes for an interesting path through the "madness industry": we meet new people, hear new things, and get quite a bit of the author's own thinking about these people and these things (perhaps too much of the author's thinking) and then the journey is over. Like travel done in this way one is left richer in stories and perspective but there has been no comprehensive survey, no particular goal has been achieved, and all one's evidence is anecdotal.

If you are looking for a critique of, state of, or even definition of "The Madness Industry" you will come away disappointed. If you are interested in one man's introduction to psychopathic behavior and his subsequent adventures with both psychopaths and those who study them it will make for an interesting read.

126 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kelley
  • 2011-05-29

Crazy about Psychopaths

This book was the perfect blend of arty, intellectual NPR vibe, Otherwhere, and Twisted Sensibility to accompany my dreaded Sunday cleaning. I loved it It's a highly entertaining pursuit of a fascinating question: Is there an us and a them?

Buy it!

62 people found this helpful

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  • Flavius Krakdaddius
  • 2011-11-08

Quirky, intriguing and educational.

The Psychopath Test was my first introduction to Jon Ronson, both as an author and as a narrator. And such is the nature of both his idiosyncratic writing style and vocal delivery, that it took me a while to realize that I quite liked it.
This isn't exactly what I was looking for. Again, not being previously familiar with the author (I'm a little more familiar now), I expected a more serious tone. Ronson treats his material seriously, but there is often a tongue-in-cheek aspect to his writing, leaving the reader wondering if the author means EXACTLY what he's saying. Once I got used to the style, I found it enjoyable.
Although this book is full of information about psychopaths, it will leave you even less sure about their nature--if it can even be said that psychopaths have a nature. TPT isn't what I'd call scholarly journalism, but it's an eye-opener nonetheless.

70 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Alex
  • 2011-07-18

Laugh a lot, Learn a lot

I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. The anecdotes are funny and interesting, and you get enough of the science (arguably pseudoscience) to inform the casual reader. I think a seriously scientifically minded person would probably not enjoy this book as the author is not academically rigorous in his exploration of applying the psychopath test--he only selects a few samples and applies the test in a haphazard manner. But I think that is intentional. I think the point of the book is to explore the way that we concieve of and treat madness, using the criteria for psycopathy as a case study. The author interjects just enough of his own opinions while leaving a lot of it open for the readers to reach their own conclusions. I, for one, happen to agree with what I believe he suggests--that while there are many people who have serious mental illnesses that necessitate treatment and therapy, the criteria we have for mental disorders are malleable enough to overdiagnose many others to their detriment. The piece on childhood bipolar disorder at the end is particularly unnerving. I would also note that I listened to this book on audio from audible and it is read by the author who has a great speech pattern. Bit of a British accent makes for nice listening and he uses good emphasis and is a good storyteller. Something fun to listen for is the way he emphasizes responses to questions--"Yes" is said very definitively.

62 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 2014-03-14

Psychopaths and the crazy people who study them

While Jon Ronson reveals a great deal about his own neuroses in this book, he casts little light on the psychopaths he is allegedly researching, though he does give some interesting insights into the "madness industry" of psychologists who have studied, categorized, labeled, and tried to treat psychopaths, mostly without success.

Ronson begins with a strange introduction to the field of psychology and mental illness thanks to a group of Scientologists, who chose him to "expose" the evils of psychology. Scientologists believe that all mental disorders are because of engrams accumulated from past lives or space aliens or some such thing. L. Ron Hubbard had a particular hatred of psychologists. Ronson spends a little time discussing the peculiarities of Scientology, but this book is primarily about psychopaths and what makes them tick... and what makes the people who study them tick.

After reading The Psychopath Test, it is not hard to believe that you have to be a little bit crazy to study crazy people. (Look out for those Abnormal Psychology majors...) From the arbitrariness of what goes into the DSM (did you know that far more copies are sold to interested non-academics/non-practitioners than to mental health professionals?) to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool that's become a quick and dirty way to label someone a psychopath, to the Rosenhan Experiment, the history of psychology is filled with enough self-reinforcing bumbling and egomania to make one think the Scientologists may have a point.

While Ronson's book is a collection of interesting anecdotes and observations, digressing into the overmedication of children, misdiagnoses of autism, and the brutality of capitalist devotion to "shareholder value," between interviews with ex-death squad leaders and allegedly psychopathic CEO Al Dunlap, it's a bit weak in its critique of science, and sheds little light on his subjects.

Martha Stout's book The Sociopath Next Door was more illuminating. Ronson does, however, give a bit of a glimpse into the mind of a sociopath in a way that Stout only addressed abstractly: how do sociopaths/psychopaths (there is no technical difference between them) see themselves? Do they recognize that they are "broken"? Do they ever want to be cured, and can they be? (Short answer: no.)

Ronson's interview with Al Dunlap was particularly interesting, as he actually confronted Dunlap with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and the allegations that Dunlap, according to this tool, scored high on the psychopathy scale. Dunlap proceeded to point out that every behavior presented as evidence of being a psychopath could also be interpreted as someone who has a forceful and driven personality who gets things done. True enough, there is a lot of evidence that psychopathy is an asset in positions of power, like boardrooms.

Ronson is able to see how some of his subjects ape normal human reactions and manipulate people the way they'd handle a TV remote control, but others, like Al Dunlap, are more ambiguous. Is Dunlap really a psychopath, or just a merciless SOB? As both Stout and Ronson point out, even genuine psychopaths are rarely serial killers; most live law-abiding, respectable lives, though never out of any actual respect for the law or society.

An interesting if somewhat meandering trip into the perilous world of diagnosing psychopaths, The Psychopath Test is not exactly a weighty, heavily-researched book, but it will be of interest to anyone who has an, ahem, clinical interest in psychopaths.

37 people found this helpful

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  • Richard
  • 2011-05-19

Fascinating stuff

A really intriguing look into the mind of both the psycopaths and the people who study them. Ronson reads his own work here, which is occasionally a little rough but more than makes up for the fact with the added pathos he brings. Great listen.

39 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Sean
  • 2011-05-23

Excellent!

I saw Ronson appear on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show", and immediately added the book to my Audible queue. It was one of the most interesting and thought provoking books I've read in a long time.

50 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Diane
  • 2011-06-19

Are you crazy?

Informative, insightful and wickedly funny, this is Ronson at his best. His wonderfully comic self-deprecating humor is refreshing on a topic that could otherwise be quite depressing--and is a welcome change from the self-important tone that typifies so many works of this genre. It also invites you to take a look at yourself, even as you start checking off the psychopathic traits of the people you dislike. Highly recommended!

29 people found this helpful

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  • William
  • 2012-01-11

Ronson books should be read by Ronson

My first introduction to Joh Ronson was an excerpt from this book on This American Life, which I found intriguing. The book has many more surprises.

Ronson is one of those authors who has a distinct speaking voice and it adds another layer to his work to hear him read it. I wish he would record some of his previous books.

34 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • William Shock
  • 2011-06-01

Fascinating - couldn't stop listening.

"The Psychopath Test" takes us on a journey through a host of interesting characters, including scientologists, psychiatrists, patients, and of course "psychopaths", giving us a variety of perspectives and insights along the way. Jon Ronson takes a postmodern approach to his subjects, an underlying skepticism which leads to interesting questions and speculations. While a moral relativism mutes some of the book's passion, this is made for by Ronson???s introspective self-doubt and honestly. Ronson brings some important social quandaries to light ??? what to do with psychopaths, the potentially psychopathic nature of our leaders, the reliability of psychiatric checklists, and the potential dangers of diagnosing and medicating children, to name just a few.

32 people found this helpful