From the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats (2005), another readable, entertaining excursion into extreme territory.
London-based journalist Ronson delves into the realm of mental illness, traveling to the notorious British facility Broadmoor to meet “Tony,” who claimed to have successfully “faked” madness—he feigned a disorder to avoid jail for a violent assault, and has been held ever since despite his protests. Psychiatrists assured Ronson that Tony was not insane, but psychopathic, a distinction that led the journalist to Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, who developed a “checklist” of personality traits to reveal psychopaths (who are by definition glib and deceptive). Ronson interviewed Hare and took his seminar. Hare contends that “psychopaths are quite incurable” due to brain abnormalities, and that his research provides the best methods for rooting them out. Hare’s seminar suggests that the detached sadism and lack of empathy which criminal psychopaths demonstrate can be seen in the wider world, where they cause great harm despite being only 1 percent of the population. “Serial killers ruin families,” he says. “Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies.” With this notion in mind, Ronson experienced chilling encounters with a Haitian death-squad leader and with Al Dunlap, a corporate raider who took great joy in firing people. Although the book’s various strands don’t fully coalesce, they remain engaging; Ronson is skilled at handling disturbing subject matter and difficult interview subjects with breezy insouciance. Yet the undertones are disturbing: While society seems unable to stop true psychopaths before they inflict major damage, Ronson argues that disturbed people like Tony essentially become “nothing more than a big splurge of madness in the minds of the people who benefit from it.” The author’s critique of these individuals within the mental-health industry will surely attract controversy.
Bizarrely captivating look at the terrifying mental disorder of psychopathy, the difficulty of its treatment and the professional infrastructure surrounding it.