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The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry

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The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry Cover

ISBN13: 9781594488016
ISBN10: 1594488010
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

Who Killed Richard Cullen?

(This story was published in the Guardian on July 16, 2005, two years before the global financial crash that began with the subprime mortgage crisis of July 2007.)

It is a wet February day in a very smoky room in a terraced cottage in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. A portable TV in an alcove plays the news. Everything in here is quite old. No spending spree has taken place in this house. There are wedding and baby and school photographs scattered around. Six children, now all grown up, were raised here. There’s a framed child’s painting in the toilet, a picture of Wendy Cullen. It reads “Supergran.” When I phoned Wendy a week ago she said I was welcome to visit, “Just as long as you don’t mind cigarette smoke. I’m smoking myself to death here.”

The “Congratulations! You have been pre-approved for a loan”– type junk mail is still pouring through their letterbox. Wendy has just thrown another batch in the bin.

“You know what the post is like,” she says.

“I don’t get all that much credit-card junk mail,” I say. “I get some, I suppose, but not nearly as much as you do.”

“Really?” says Wendy. “I assumed everyone was constantly bombarded.”

“Not me,” I say.

We both shrug as if to say, “That’s a mystery.”

IT WAS A month ago today that Wendy’s husband, Richard, committed suicide. It was the end of what had been an ordinary twenty-five-year marriage. They met when Wendy owned a B and B on the other side of Trowbridge. He turned up one day and rented a room. Richard had trained to be an electrical engineer but he ended up as a mechanic.

“He loved repairing people’s cars,” Wendy says. Then she narrows her eyes at my line of questioning and makes me promise that I am not here to write “a slushy horrible mawky love story.”

“I’m really not,” I say. So Wendy continues. Everything was normal until six years ago, when she needed an operation. “I couldn’t face the Royal United Hospital in Bath,” she says, “so I went private. I took out a four-thousand-pound loan.”

She says she remembers a time when it was hard for people like them to get loans, but this was easy. Companies were practically throwing money at them.

“Richard handled all the finances. He said, ‘I can get you one with nought percent interest and after six months we’ll switch you to another one.’ ”

But then, a few months after the first operation, Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer and Richard had to take six weeks off to drive her to radiotherapy. The bills needed paying and so, once again, he did that peculiarly modern British thing. He began signing up for credit cards, behaving like a company, thinking he could beat the lenders at their own game by cleverly rolling the debts over from account to account.

There are currently eight million more credit cards in circulation in Britain than there are people: sixty-seven million credit cards, fifty-nine million people.

He signed up with Mint: “Apply for your Mint Card. You’d need a seriously good reason not to. What’s stopping you?”

And Frizzell: “A name you can trust.”

And Barclaycard: “Wake up to a fresh start.”

And Morgan Stanley: “Choose from our Flags of Great Britain range of card designs.”

And American Express: “Go on, treat yourself.”

And so on.

Right now nobody knows how Richard Cullen’s shrewd acumen fell apart.

“He wasn’t a man that talked a great deal,” says Wendy, “and he never, ever discussed finances with me.” But somehow it all spiraled out of control.

Wendy first got the inkling that something was wrong just before Christmas 2004, when the debt-collection departments of various credit-card companies began phoning. He called them back out of his wife’s hearing.

“You know how men will walk around with their mobiles,” says Wendy. “He used to go out into the garden.”

She looks over to the garden behind the conservatory extension and says, “He was a very proud man. He must have been going through hell. They were very, very persistent. I don’t think he was even phoning them back in the end.”

Finally, he admitted it to his wife. He said he didn’t seek out all of the twenty-two credit cards he had somehow ended up acquiring between 1998 and 2004. On many occasions they just arrived through the letterbox in the form of “Congratulations! You have been pre-approved . . .” junk. He said he thought he owed about £30,000. There had been no spending spree, he said, no secret vices. He had just tied himself up in knots, using each card to pay off the interest and the charges on the others. The fog of late-payment fees and so on had somehow crept up and engulfed him. He got a pair of scissors from the kitchen and cut up ten credit cards in front of her.

On January 10, 2005, Richard visited his ex-wife, Jennifer, who later told the police that he seemed “very quiet, like he’d retreated into himself, like his mind was gone.”

She asked him how his weekend was. He replied, “Not very good.”

Then he went missing for two days.

“Nobody knows where he went,” says Wendy.

On the morning of January 12, Wendy’s son Christopher looked in the garage. It was padlocked, so he broke in with a screwdriver. There was an old Vauxhall Nova covered with a sheet.

“I don’t know why,” Christopher later told the police, “but I decided to look under the sheet.”

Richard Cullen had gassed himself in his car. He left his wife a note: “I just can’t take this any more and you’ll be better off without me.”

WHO KILLED RICHARD CULLEN?

For instance: Why did so many credit-card companies choose to swamp the Cullens with junk when they don’t swamp me?

How did they even get their address? How can I even begin to find something complicated like that out?

And then I have a brainwave. I’ll devise an experiment. I’ll create a number of personas. Their surnames will all be Ronson, and they’ll all live at my address, but they’ll have different first names. Each Ronson will be poles apart, personality wise. Each will have a unique set of hopes, desires, predilections, vices, and spending habits, reflected in the various mailing lists they’ll sign up to—from Porsche down to hard-core pornography. The one thing that’ll unite them is that they won’t be at all interested in credit cards. They will not seek loans nor any financial services as they wander around, filling out lifestyle surveys and entering competitions and purchasing things by mail order. Whenever they’re invited to tick a box forbidding whichever company from passing their details to other companies, they’ll neglect to tick the box.

Which, if any, of my personas will end up getting sent credit-card junk mail? Which personality type will be most attractive to the credit-card companies?

I name my personas John, Paul, George, Ringo, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, Titch, Willy, Biff, Happy and Bernard. And I begin.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 10 comments:

gary w cannon, August 16, 2013 (view all comments by gary w cannon)
Do you know a psychopath? The answer may surprise you since 1% of the population meets the clinical definition. You may want to take another look at your neighbor, your coworker...maybe even your spouse!!!
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ronald, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by ronald)
Another engrossing and fun read in the land of the strange and weird. Ronson is a master at writing about the extremes of human behavior while making his quest reliable, entertaining, and educating.
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krickcrak, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by krickcrak)
Funny, yet informative.
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View all 10 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9781594488016
Author:
Ronson, Jon
Publisher:
Riverhead Hardcover
Author:
Greenberg, Gary
Author:
Fallon, James
Subject:
Popular Culture
Subject:
Psychology - Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders
Subject:
Pathological Psychology
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20150331
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
includes new material
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Riverhead Hardcover - English 9781594488016 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In this engrossing exploration of psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat psychopathy, British journalist Ronson (whose The Men Who Stare at Goats was the basis for the 2009 movie starring George Clooney) reveals that psychopaths are more common than we'd like to think. Visiting Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, where some of Britain's worst criminal offenders are sent, Ronson discovers the difficulties of diagnosing the complex disorder when he meets one inmate who says he feigned psychopathy to get a lighter sentence, and instead has spent 12 years in Broadmoor. The psychiatric community's criteria for diagnosing psychopathy (which isn't listed in its handbook, DSM-IV) is a checklist developed by the Canadian prison psychologist Robert Hare. Using Hare's rubric, which includes 'glibness,' 'grandiose sense of self-worth,' and 'lack of remorse,' Ronson sets off to interview possible psychopaths, many of them in positions of power, from a former Haitian militia leader to a power-hungry CEO. Raising more questions than it answers, and far from a dry medical history lesson, this book brings droll wit to buoy this fascinating journey through 'the madness business.' (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,
From the internationally bestselling author of The Psychopath Test, a captivating and brilliant exploration of one of our worlds most overlooked forces.

 

For the past three years, Jon Ronson has been immersing himself in the world of modern-day public shaming—meeting famous shamees, shamers, and bystanders who have been impacted.  This is the perfect time for a modern-day Scarlet Letter—a radically empathetic book about public shaming, and about shaming as a form of social control. It has become such a big part of our lives it has begun  to feel weird and empty when there isnt anyone to be furious about. Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesnt cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is okay or in ruins. Whats it doing to them? Whats it doing to us?

Ronsons book is a powerful, funny, unique, and very humane dispatch from the frontline, in the escalating war on human nature and its flaws.

"Synopsis" by ,
The memoir of a neuroscientist whose research led him to a bizarre personal discovery

 

James Fallon had spent an entire career studying how our brains affect our behavior when his research suddenly turned personal. While studying brain scans of several family members, he discovered that one perfectly matched a pattern hed found in the brains of serial killers. This meant one of two things: Either his familys scans had been mixed up with those of felons or someone in his family was a psychopath.

 

Even more disturbing: The scan in question was his own.

 

This is Fallons account of coming to grips with this discovery and its implications. How could he, a happy family man who had never been prone to violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior?

 

Fallon shares his journey to answer these questions and the discoveries that ultimately led to his conclusion: Despite everything science can teach, humans are even more complex than we can imagine.

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