I first heard about The Psychopath Test several months ago on an episode of This American Life, and that episode led me to seek out this book.  I had to wait a while for the book to arrive through my library system since there were so many people waiting for it, and then I had to read it quickly since there were still over 100 people on the waiting list.

I had several reasons for wanting to read this book.  The concept of learning whether or not someone had psychopathic tendencies (which could be turned towards several goals, including a life of crime or a life of being successful in business) sounded really interesting.  I have several family members who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and several who have NOT been diagnosed but who definitely have some mental issues.  And last but not least, I am a public librarian and I see more than my share of people who might or might not be crazy.

So first things first; if you are interested in seeing the actual “test” that has been taken by prisoners, business leaders, and the staff of This American Life, you’re not going to find it in this book.  You’ll get something called the Psychopath Checklist, which identifies primary psychopathic characteristics but the scoring and analysis would ideally be done by professionals.  What you will find in this book is an examination of mental illness, the history of diagnosing mental illness, Scientology vs. psychiatry, the characteristics of a psychopath, criminal profiling, and the history and impact of the DSM (aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

This is a fascinating and upsetting book that will make you consider the people around you in a new way and which will give you a filter through which to view your own behavior and the behavior of everyone you’ve ever known.  Upon further consideration I’m glad that I didn’t get too deeply immersed in the world of psychopath analysis.  Because I fear that I, like Ronson, would use my knowledge to over-analyze the people around me and start diagnosing psychopaths left and right.  The psychopath checklist told me that I am not a psychopath and that my questionable family members show only a few psychopathic tendencies.  But the checklist DID clarify a few things about several library patrons I’ve encountered over the years …