the Madness Industry

By Jon Ronson

Riverhead. 275 pp. $25.95

This fascinating and humane book covers a lot of ground. Jon Ronson (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) does indeed take a journey through “the madness industry” of his subtitle: He gets to know a diagnosed psychopath in England’s Broadmoor Hospital, interviews a former chief executive who’s become wealthy as the go-to guy when corporations want to fire people and need someone who enjoys the job, hangs out with Scientologists, and discusses pyschopathology with the man who created a widely used checklist for the condition.

‘The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry’ by Jon Ronson (Riverhead)

That checklist will be familiar to most people who’ve worked in a group setting. They’ll recognize the energetic, charming individual who turns out to be evasive, unreliable and dishonest. (The type is found disproportionately in politics and the upper echelons of corporations.)

Though the book has its share of sensational anecdotes, these aren’t Ronson’s primary interest. His focus is on the way in which medicine and the media reduce a personality to nothing more than “its extreme, outermost aspects.” A journalist himself, he comes to see that “I was good at spotting the diamonds of craziness amid the gloom of normality because it’s what I’ve done for a living for twenty years. There can be something quite psychopathic about journalism, about psychology, about the art of madness-spotting. . . . I was writing a book about the madness industry and only just realizing that I was a part of the industry.”