The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson
Ronson is a British journalist with all the stereotypical quirks and strange humor you might imagine in that mix. He's anxious and nosy, slovenly and with teeth only an Appalachian would be proud to own.
And yet ... he is something of a new journalist whose self-deprecating ways earn him entry where few other reporters go: with the extremist groups and their charismatic leaders, whom he chronicled in "Them." He is perhaps best known for "The Men Who Stare At Goats," a look at the New Age Army unit that trained, and believe, they could walk through walls and kill said animals simply by staring them down.
In other words, he disarms the crazy because he appears he might could be one of them. And without judgment, he details the sorts of everyday madness the rest of us don't understand.
In "Psychopath," he's done it again. This time, clearly, he's looking at one a single realm of mental illness: psychopathy. Sociopaths, as suffers are also known, are often the charming if disturbingly unfeeling con men of the mentally ill.
Ronson's delves into the issue after meeting Tony, a petty criminal who claims to have faked madness to avoid jail. Instead, he's sent to a British asylum for the criminally insane and can't be released. Doctors have accepted that he lied in the hopes of not being locked up but have now diagnosed him as a dangerous psychopath. This is shocking to Ronson, who at first feels sympathy for this man who shows up in a flashy suit for their meeting, while all the other inmates/patients are decked out in sweats.
Ronson is a bit of conspiracy theorist himself, which makes him open to trying every angle of his topic. First, he trains to become an expert in spotting psychopathic behavior, which he learns is often spotted in political and business leaders.
Then he begins to argue that the whole diagnosis is over-used, both by psychologists and journalists looking for madness to explain cruel or unusual behavior from the simply disturbed, like Tony.
Still, his conclusion is grim. Psychopaths do exist. There is little that can be done to stop them before they harm others. Knowing how to spot them can help, perhaps. But only if you can distinguish between the dangerous and the obsessive when a fine line is often the only difference.
Thieves of Manhattan - Adam Langer
Ian Minot has a problem. A 30-something orphan of modest means, he longs to be a writer. He has spent years in New York City following the path he believes will make him a published author: submitting his stories to magazines and agents, trying to chat up agents while working as a caterer to their swanky parties and writing his quiet stories in the hours after dutifully working a barista job with a would-be actor and a sometimes artist.
But his stories are too small, his focus on characters too distracting from plots that rarely arc or jump. His delicate self-esteem breaks down not after churning that so many deceitful and lying writers are being heralded for their "true: memoirs. It's when his Eastern European girlfriend, who also writes small stories, begins to rise that Ian feels himself beginning to fall.
Enter the Confidence Man. Jeb Roth is a former book editor and frustrated writer who jumps from his career out of sheer anger that his firm is publishing one of those lying manuscripts he had initially refused.
Roth has a plan: let Ian rewrite an over-the-top novel that Roth himself penned, only claim it as true. Once he is heralded for his bravery and ability to overcome, Ian can turn the tables on the industry by telling the real truth. Agents, publishers and reviewers will all be embarrassed by the lies they've so eagerly embraced.
Of course, Langer's dark humor and outlandish social commentary won't let that happen. Our culture has been so warped, reality and dishonesty can become interchangeable. Ethics have given way to profit.
Mere satire on this topic isn't enough. He engages film noir, screwball comedy and adventure stories all to make his case. That is, lies can often reveal the truth about people far better than authenticity.