Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia
Jon Ronson is probably best known as the journalist who authored The Men Who Stare At Goats.  He's something of a gonzo journalist, and in this book he takes a look at psychopathy and the institutions that deal with psychopaths - namely the prison and criminal justice systems, the mental health industry and professions, and the world of business executives.

I want to like Ronson's writing a whole lot more than I actually do.  This is my second book by him (I've also read Them: Adventures With Extremists) and I've been solidly underwhelmed.  I feel like he leans really heavily on the "gonzo" part of his journalism - to the detriment of reliability.  So while I read, I'm questioning whether he's presenting me with a fact or an opinion.

Also, it's very much psychology-lite.  I love psychology and pop psychology books, but this is so very diluted that it goes from being accessible to being simplistic.  I think there's a balance between overwhelming the reader who isn't a subject matter expert and simplifying a subject to the point that the reader can sense it's being dumbed down.  I feel like Ronson went too far in the dumbed down direction with this one.

Entertainment Value
Obviously, this wasn't my favorite.  While it does have an appeal to a broad audience because of its simplicity, that same simplicity made it forgettable to me.  There were some interesting and moderately entertaining anecdotes, but I found the book as a whole to be something I read and promptly forgot.

If you're an armchair psychologist and particularly interested in psychopathy, you may want to give it a try.  I don't give it a very high recommendation though.  I think there are better pop psychology books that are accessible to the lay reader, but also more memorable and go deeper than the surface.

My copy of this book was checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia


  1. I may mention this one to my wife, who is a mental health therapist, but will also echo your concerns--meanning it may not hold any entertainment value in addition to little expansion of knowledge. But somtimes a 'lite' version to see how some see a profession or situation can have merit.

    1. If she reads it, I'd be fascinated to hear her response to it as a professional!

    2. I will let you know if she does. It's unlikely, but there are times she's looking for a book (beyond her TBR stack).