Touching Madness: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

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Review by Caroline Goldsmith

Jon Ronson is a really entertaining writer, and his self-deprecating manner, great humour and boundless curiousity are really put to great use in “The Psychopath Test”. The initial chapters cover the unravelling of a mystery surrounding a set of intriguing packages sent to leading neurologists around the world. The trail leads Ronson to Sweden and a slightly unsatisfactory conclusion to our puzzle. The book really picks up pace when Ronson discovers Canadian Psychologist, Bob Hare, the creator of the fabled twenty question “Psychopath Test”, supposedly the definitive questionnaire for diagnosis.

As a reader, it’s easy to feel privileged that you have stumbled upon such powerful knowledge. The twenty questions are simple and I defy anyone to read this book and not start glancing sideways at friends, acquaintances and bosses with new perspective. What is utterly terrifying is the dawning realisation that, if the test is accurate, the world is peopled with psychopaths. Scarier still, is the endless catalogue of recognised psychiatric conditions that Ronson leafs through and the realisation that in the eyes of the professionals none of us would be completely “normal”.

The characters in Ronson’s books are all the more compelling because they are real and here is no exception. We meet callous capitalists and all round awful boss, Al Dunlap; deluded Haitian war-lord Toto Constant; and “Tony” a criminal who claims to have faked madness so successfully that he is now trapped in Broadmoor unable to convince his doctor’s of his sanity.

I was disappointed that Ronson didn’t dig a little deeper with his investigations. It’s a vast and fascinating subject and I felt that the book did little other than scratch the surface, leaving me sighing in frustration as I scanned the length bibliography at the back. However, for an entertaining and sometimes frightening introduction to a fascinating topic, you can’t go wrong.

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