Book review: The Psychopath Test

By Giles Broadbent on July 12, 2011 12:10 PM |


The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson
Picador, £16.99

In a jaunty, charming book, Ronson goes sniffing out madmen in a tour of the mental health industry.

This is not, as innocent browsers may assume, a multiple choice government issue pamphlet - although we may all be a little safer if there's an increase in self-diagnosed loons signing up to be sectioned.

Instead this is a tour of the red end of the mental health spectrum delivered in Ronson's signature jaunty style that manages to meander and move briskly at the same time.

Ronson's thesis is not clear at the beginning (when he sets out on a MacGuffin mystery tour to Sweden) and perhaps less so at the end, when he detours into an alarming summary of the chemical coshing of awkward kids.

But with a blend of compassionate curiosity, an eye for an oddity and a full cast list of insiders, exponents and critics, Ronson manages to lodge enough uncertainties about the ability of the experts to spot and treat psychopaths to make a walk around Canada Square Park all the more hairy.

(Some psychos make Broadmoor, but many make the boardroom, he discovers.)

Although he doesn't satisfactorily tie up all the flapping strands of the sprawling subject matter, the effortless ease of his prose and his endless inquiry make for a jolting and breezy tour of the behaviours between normal and dangerous that cause all the problems.

Some call this territory benign eccentricity but for the pharmaceutical companies and mind doctors, it represents a no-man's-land to colonise, cure and exploit.