Jon Ronson

11.20.12

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.

3,096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape
By Natascha Kampusch

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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

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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

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

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
By Robert Hare

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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!”

Slaughterhouse-Five
By Kurt Vonnegut

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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.