Book Review: The Psychopath Test

Book review:
Ref: Jon Ronson “The Psychopath Test” Ed 5 Jan 2012, Audiobook

(Find on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychopath-Test-Jon-Ronson/dp/0330492276 )

As the outrageous duplicity of the ‘man’ (groomer) I used to date emerged, very publicly, someone suggested I read this book. As I travel a fair amount, and had been reading lots of ‘pseudo-psychology’ texts, it was great to finally have something sensible and informed in my hands rather than the platitudes of pop psychology. I was learning more about psychopaths than I ever wanted or needed to know, and it was leaving me cold and confused. (Armchair psychiatry?)

The reading in this book is in many ways grim, and raises many questions. But I love the form – the author takes you with him on his journey to unravel the label ‘psychopath’, making a tough and potentially depressing topic accessible.

My personal takeaways:

  • Everyone has some psychopathic traits. Psychopathy is spectrum, and it’s the extent of these traits that identifies a psychopath.
  • Psychopaths have narcissistic tendencies, but not all narcissists are psychopaths.
  • We shouldn’t really be bandying around these terms in the way we do: there’s professional opinion to be had, and all kinds of things could contribute to a high score.
  • The established test for psychopathy is the Bob Hare psychopath test. (I scored higher than I would have liked, but not enough to be identified as a psychopath – phew!)
  • Psychopaths do not generally present as Hannibal Lecter  – most are charming, apparently outwardly likeable individuals.
  • Like any ‘condition’ psychopathy does not always have to be  negative – many psychopaths find gainful employment and turn those traits to the good. Many business leaders are psychopaths. (Not always a good thing.)
  • Psychopaths are not changeable or treatable.

You can go straight to the Bob Hare Psychopath Test to see if you re/someone you know is a psychopath, but reading this book beforehand will give you both context and a healthy dose of cynicism before taking the tests overly seriously or jumping to conclusions.

For me personally it shifted things. We cannot play with psychopaths unless we too are psychopathic or very well trained – they are often intelligent and calculating, skilled liars and dangerous to cross. It offers no closure, but it does offer explanations. It offers no hope, but does offer a stop to the wasteful search for silver linings where these people are concerned.

Despite the grim raw material, the book is engaging, entertaining even humorous.

Whether you have a specific reason to read this (concerns about and individual) or not, this is a well written, humorous read – highly recommended.

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