Jon Ronson

11.20.12 9:45 AM ET

Jon Ronson’s Book Bag: Five Books on Madness

The author of the new book Lost at Sea, The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats chooses his favorites.

Her brilliant memoir about being kidnapped and held captive for eight years by Wolfgang Priklopil. I had the pleasure of interviewing her a few years ago. She told me he insisted she called him Maestro: “I thought it was ridiculous and silly,” she said. “But I recognized similar behavior from preschool. One child would say, ‘I’m the ruler. I’m the king.’ Or, ‘I’m a princess.’”

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The American Psychiatric Association

Also known as the DSM-IV-TR. It currently lists, in 886 pages, all 374 mental disorders. I’ve got 12. I’ve got Nightmare Disorder, which is categorized by recurrent dreams of being pursued or declared a failure. All my dreams involve me being pursued and declared a failure. I was a bit disappointed to hear that in the next DSM they’re relegating Internet Addiction to the appendix, the graveyard of mental disorders. I rather liked the idea of my various Internet trolls being declared insane.

The Shining
By Stephen King

I very much identify with Jack Torrence. I’m like that too when I’m trying to write.

For all the wider problems with labeling and checklists, I found Hare’s book incredibly instructive. His contention is that psychopaths bury their madness beneath a veneer of normality, so you need the checklist to identify them by the nuances of their behavior. I’m certain he’s right. He once said to me, “When you meet a high scoring one it’s stunning.” Recently I was interviewing a spy and he started talking about how much he enjoyed—as a schoolboy—jumping out from behind trees to hit people with bricks. I used Hare’s teachings to ask him, “Do you think empathy is a weakness?” He said, “Oh yes!”

By Kurt Vonnegut

When I first read this as a teenager, I thought Billy Pilgrim really had been kidnapped and taken to the planet Tralfamadore and mated with a porn star called Montana Wildhack and put in a zoo. Then when I reread it I realized that Billy was in fact just the victim of what Vonnegut called the ‘bad chemicals” that sloshed around in his brain. A lovely, empathetic novel about middle-aged mental frailty.