Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review : The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

by C.L. Phillips

We've had the conversation about my Kindle addiction, right?  Well, in my latest fit of "I've got to have this book, NOW", my fingers did the walking and purchased The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson after watching his interview on Jon Stewart's Daily Show.  Damn that Jon Stewart.

The book is beyond compelling.  Why?  Ronson uses vignettes to tell the story.  He drew me in with a mystery of all things.  A mystery in a non fiction book.  It made me smile.  And throught the mystery he illustrated one of the main points in his book.

I'm not going to tell you what the mystery is, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for you.  Suffice to say I read the entire book in one sitting.  And it's non-fiction!  I never do that.

His book is compelling for another reason.  It gave me so much more to think about in terms of my villans and the other people my hero will be working against.  His story about Tony, the man who chose to feign mental illness rather than go to jail took me on a complete character arc.  I found myself rooting for Tony until the last moment when the hammer dropped.

The main point of the book is that with a simple test, you too can identify a psychopath.  And if you've worked in the corporate world, odds are you've seen more than one up close.  Jon's example is Al Dunlap from Sunbeam Corporation.  Mine shall remain unnamed, but let's just say he was easy to identify with the test.

Are there other non-fiction books you've used in this way?  Tell me more.  My fingers are itching to give Jeff Bezos more of my money.

p.s.  Jon Ronson captured my heart and soul last night, and interrupted my normal sleep so I'm up at 5:12 a.m. in the dark in Central Texas wondering how many psychopaths live within walking distance.  It's worse than zombies.


C.L. Phillips said...

In his book, Ronson references the DSM - the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. It's a great resource for writers.

I purchased an old copy, version 3, for much less than the latest printing. Close enough for me. :)

Look for it at a reseller shop.

Jenna said...

Sounds interesting. Will have to look for it. Not sure I want to know just how many psychopaths live in the neighborhood, though. I'm an 'ignorance is bliss' sort of girl.

C.L. Phillips said...


Right on. One of the points in the book is that if you read the test questions, you might see more psychopaths than there really are.

Reminds me of my first year of bird watching, when every small bird was a Bachman Warbler. :)


Patg said...

I think I read somewhere that the DSM grows continuously and soon it will simply mean that we all have disorders.

C.L. Phillips said...


That's mentioned in Ronson's book. My favorite new disorder? Internet Addiction.

Another interesting point: a guest booker for reality TV shows would ask potential guests what medications they were taking. Why? Because the best reality television came from slightly crazy guests.

I was amazed. :)


Gina said...

Sounds like a fascinating book, C.L. But what if you read the book and find out that you yourself are a psychopath??? What do you do then? [Not that I personally would ever show any sign of psychiatric derangement. Oh, no, no, no.]

Anonymous said...


I imagine in some small way if you took the test and found out you were one, you would focus on all the positives - leadership, creative thinking, ability to divorce emotions from decision-making...and then you'd apply for a CEO position somewhere!

And of course, CEO is a relative term. Maybe folks could be satisfied with being in charge of the Homeowners Association. :) And by no means am I saying CEO's or Presidents of HOA's are pychopaths.

Still, this book gives new ideas for me as a writer. Chilling ones.