“The Psychopath Test” is a non-fiction whirligig of a book from the sometime Guardian journalist/documentary filmmaker and author of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”.
Not unlike the aforementioned book, which was about men who stare at goats, ‘The Psychopath Test’ is about psychopaths and a test that can determine how to identify them. If anything, you couldn’t accuse Ronson of ambiguous or misleading book titles.
Disturbingly however, Ronson’s book claims that psychopaths – or to use the more subtle yet interchangeable terminology – sociopaths – are more prevalent amongst us than we may think, and invariably most of us would have had some experience with them in our lives whether we realised it or not.
Certainly, having read the book and cross-referenced the, ‘now-famous twenty-point [Dr. Bob] Hare PCL-R Checklist’ [Psychopathy Checklist – Revised], I can attest that I have experienced knowing one – and I’m not talking facetiously about an ex-girlfriend either.
But perhaps what is more disconcerting, and possibly the most salient point in the book, is that many of these sociopathic attributes are almost indistinguishable from what characterises a successful business person.
Or to paraphrase the devilishly eldritch line from Bret Easton Ellis’ fictional protagonist Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” when asked in a crowded restaurant what he does for a living replies glibly, “murders and assassinations” upon which the person evidently mishearing the response acknowledges, “Oh, mergers and acquisitions”.
The prerequisite characteristics to ‘excel’ (for want of a better word) in said activities are apparently not dissimilar.
Of course, the book is not implying that all successful business persons are potential sociopaths. However, the major thesis of “The Psychopath Test” could be distilled down to the premise that the actions and consequences of a minority of these extremely dangerous and formidable individuals affect the lives of the majority. Whether they be calculating serial killers, cold-hearted mercenaries or ruthless captains of industry.
In fact, I would argue that the book provides a significant psychological piece of the puzzle, if not a corner piece, of what is inherently wrong with so much of modern society today. However, incongruous to its serious subject matter “The Psychopath Test” is written in Jon Ronson’s customary witty, dry as gin, self-deprecating style – perhaps for the one reason that if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
Unless of course you’re a psychopath, in which case you’re probably emotionally incapable of doing either.