Award-winning author and journalist gives unique lecture


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Jon Ronson, an award-winning journalist, radio presenter, documentary maker, gave a lecture on Wednesday as part of the University Lecture Committee’s commitment to bring unique figures to campus. Ronson is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestseller The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was turned into a major motion picture starring George Clooney.

Nathaniel Richmond, a member of the Lecture Committee, said that Ronson was chosen as a speaker because of his interesting resume. “He’s one of the few gonzo journalists,” Richmond said.

Gonzo journalists are defined as those who report objectively but become part of the narrative they are telling. This is certainly the case for Ronson, who has been on site for many of his stories, some of which he lectured on. “I’m essentially a humorous journalist out of my depth,” Ronson said, describing himself during his different adventures.

For the majority of his lecture, Ronson focused on his experiences writing The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. Writing the book involved meeting with a man in Broadmoor, a mental institution in England, who faked being clinically insane in order to escape a prison sentence and was unable to leave the facility afterwards. Ronson noted that the doctors at the institution became aware the man was not insane but kept him anyway, because they had diagnosed him as a psychopath as a result of his actions.

This, Ronson said, led him into explore the concept of psychopathy and how sanity, insanity, and eccentricity are defined. The lecture was greeted with enthusiasm by both students and others alike, despite several technical difficulties and the unusual lecture style.

“Jon Ronson is as equally great to hear as he is to read,” said Kate Jansen, a UI clinical assistant professor of family medicine. Students who had little idea of what the lecture would be on found plenty of enjoyment.

“I love his sense of irony,” said UI junior Megan Henry. “He was just hilarious to listen to because of all his mannerisms.” The Lecture Committee was aiming for an interesting experience for the audience, Richmond said. One of the reasons Ronson was chosen as a speaker was because he was not a traditional journalist. 

“When I read his books, I was made aware of a lot of interesting situations in the world,” Richmond said.  Ronson began and ended the lecture with his stories about his family and embarrassing moments he has had with them.

“If you’re going to write about absurdities, you have to be willing to put your own out there,” he said. Before wrapping up his lecture, without giving away his next project, he said he would travel to Maryville, Mo., in the next few days to look into the group Anonymous.

Ronson said he was unsure about what students would take away from his lecture, but Richmond hoped that it would broaden the students’ perspective. “He gave a unique perspective, and I think that’s what the lecture committee is all about — presenting things in a new perspective,” Richmond said.

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