Saturday, May 21, 2011
The Psychopath Test - Review
First of all, this is a really cool book design. The cover is one of the best that I have come across in a long time. I looked up the book after I saw Jon Ronson being interviewed, but the cover definitely sold me. Buy the hardcover, not the Kindle version, it's worth the extra couple of bucks.
About halfway through this book, I was disappointed by the conclusions drawn on the cause of psychopathy. Essentially, it came down to a part of the brain not functioning in a normal manner. For my money, that was already self-evident. I may not have known exactly what that section of the brain was called (amygdala), but I knew psychopaths operating systems were different on a fundamental level. The more interesting questions aren't really addressed: Why does that piece not function correctly? Nature or nurture? Is it hereditary? What age does it show up? Is there any evidence that psychopaths have experienced similar trauma in their youth? How did they determine about 1% of the human population are psychopaths? And so on. These are the questions that were hiding just under the text, but were never addressed. The author backs aways from his blanket assessment by the end of the book, but the questions still remain unanswered.
Aside from that minor complaint, the book was absolutely excellent. Its the first I've read by Jon Ronson and I have already put his other two on my wish list (Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats). It covers a wide variety of subjects: psychopaths, scientology and the validity of psychiatry, bi-polar diagnoses in children, the nature of the madness industry, the pharmaceutical companies hand in disease proliferation, and much more. It's a great read and you could not ask for a better introduction to the subject. It reminds me of another one of my favorite books this year, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Who wants to read about the causes of psychopathy? Or how to memorize lists? Both of these authors have succeeded in writing books that transform the boring to the exceptional, mostly through the power of narrative.
The power of story can transform an ordinary subject and really give it life. For the non-fiction author, this is the goal. Conveying real information in a way that is memorable and entertaining is no easy feat, but it should be the goal. How can you transform you book into a story? What do you really want people to remember? If you had to cut 90% of your book, what 10% would remain? Can you expand on the 10%?
Recommended for anyone interested in the madness industry or as an example of non-fiction written in an engaging manner.