Jon Ronson

Last updated on 29 April 2017

Jon Ronson (born 10 May 1967) is a Welsh journalist, author, documentary filmmaker and radio presenter whose works include the best-selling The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004) and The Psychopath Test (2011). He has been described as a gonzo journalist, becoming something of a faux-naïf character himself in his stories.

He is known for his informal but sceptical investigations of controversial fringe politics and science. He has published nine books and his work has appeared in British publications such as The Guardian, City Life and Time Out. He has made several BBC Television documentary films and two documentary series for Channel 4.

Jon Ronson TAM London 2009.JPG
Jon Ronson TAM London 2009.JPG

Biography

Personal life

Ronson was born in Cardiff in Wales and attended Cardiff High School. He worked for CBC Radio (since renamed Capital South Wales) in Cardiff before moving to London for a degree in Media Studies at the Polytechnic of Central London. Ronson, who is culturally Jewish, is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association. He is married to Elaine and they have a son. Ronson is a supporter of the football team Arsenal and has spoken of his "adoration" of the club.

Writing career

Ronson's first book, Clubbed Class (1994), is a travelogue in which he bluffs his way into a jet set lifestyle, in search of the world's finest holiday.

His second book, Them: Adventures with Extremists (2001) chronicles his experiences with people labelled as extremists. Subjects in the book include David Icke, Randy Weaver, Omar Bakri Muhammad, Ian Paisley, Alex Jones, and Thom Robb. Ronson also follows independent investigators of secretive groups such as the Bilderberg Group. The narrative tells of Ronson's attempts to infiltrate the "shadowy cabal" fabled, by these conspiracy theorists, to rule the world. The book, a best-seller, was described by Louis Theroux as "funny and compulsively readable picaresque adventure through a paranoid shadow world." Variety magazine announced in September 2005 that Them has been purchased by Universal Pictures to be turned into a feature film. The screenplay is being written by Mike White (School of Rock, The Good Girl), produced by White and the comedian Jack Black, and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead).

Ronson contributed the memoir A Fantastic Life to the Picador anthology Truth or Dare, in 2004.

Ronson's third book, The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004), deals with the secret New Age unit within the United States Army called the First Earth Battalion. Ronson investigates people such as Major General Albert Stubblebine III, former head of intelligence, who believe that people can walk through walls with the right mental preparation, and that goats can be killed simply by staring at them. Much was based on the ideas of Lt. Col. Jim Channon, ret., who wrote the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual in 1979, inspired by the emerging Human Potential Movement of California. The book suggests that these New Age military ideas mutated over the decades to influence interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. An eponymous film of the book was released in 2009, in which Ronson's investigations were fictionalised and structured around a journey to Iraq. Ronson is played by the actor Ewan McGregor in the film.

Ronson's fourth book, Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness (2006; Picador and Guardian Books) is a collection of his Guardian articles, mostly those concerning his domestic life. A companion volume was What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness (2007).

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (2011) is Ronson's fifth book. In it, he explores the nature of psychopathic behaviour, learning how to apply the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and investigating its reliability. He interviews people in facilities for the criminally insane as well as potential psychopaths in corporate boardrooms. The book has been rejected by The Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy and by Robert D. Hare, creator of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Hare described the book as "frivolous, shallow, and professionally disconcerting".

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries (2012) is Ronson's sixth book.

Ronson's book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed (2015), concerns the effect of the internet age (and particularly Twitter) on acts of public humiliation.

Radio

Jon Ronson by Walnut Whippet.jpg
Ronson at Humber Mouth Festival, 2006

Ronson's main radio work is the production and presentation of a BBC Radio 4 programme, Jon Ronson on... The program has been nominated for a Sony award four times. In August 2008, Radio 4 aired "Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson Journey to the Other Side", a documentary by Jon Ronson about pop star Williams' fascination with UFOs and the paranormal.

In the early 1990s, Ronson was offered the position of sidekick on Terry Christian's Show on Manchester radio station KFM. Ronson also co-presented a KFM show with Craig Cash, who went on to write and perform in The Royle Family and Early Doors.

Ronson contributes to Public Radio International in the United States, particularly the program This American Life. He has contributed segments to the following of its episodes: "Them", "Family Physics", "Naming Names", "It's Never Over", "Habeas Schmaebeas", "The Spokesman", "Pro Se", and "The Psychopath Test".

Music

In the late 1980s, Ronson replaced Mark Radcliffe as the keyboard player for the Frank Sidebottom band for a number of performances.

Ronson was the manager of the Manchester indie band Man From Delmonte.

Television

Ronson presented the late nineties talk show "For The Love Of...", in which each week he would interview a gathering of guests and experts on different phenomena and conspiracy theories.Ronson has also appeared as a guest on many shows, such as Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled.

Films

Ronson sold the film rights to The Men Who Stare at Goats and a movie of the same name was released in 2009 as a comedy war film directed by Grant Heslov and written by Peter Straughan. According to Ronson's DVD-commentary, the journalist-character Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) did experience some elements of Ronson's self-recounted story from the book. However, unlike Ronson, Wilton was an American from Ann Arbor. Also, unlike Ronson, Wilton went to Iraq. In the process of visiting the set during the shoot, Ronson began a collaborative writing project with Straughan. With Straughan he also co-wrote the screenplay for Frank, a feature film very loosely based on the Sidebottom story.

Works

Books

Date first published Title Publisher information
27 October 1994 Clubbed Class Pavilion Books Ltd, hardcover, ISBN 1-85793-320-6
2001 Them: Adventures with Extremists Picador, hardcover, 2001, ISBN 0-330-37545-8
Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2002, ISBN 0-7432-2707-7
Simon & Schuster, paperback, 1 January 2003, ISBN 0-7432-3321-2
19 November 2004 The Men Who Stare at Goats Picador, hardcover, ISBN 0-330-37547-4
3 November 2006 Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness Picador/Guardian Books, paperback, ISBN 0-330-44832-3
2 November 2007 What I Do: More True Tales Of Everyday Craziness Picador/Guardian Books, paperback, ISBN 0-330-45373-4
12 May 2011 The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry Riverhead Books, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-59448-801-6
30 October 2012 Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries Penguin Group, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-59463-137-5
27 March 2014 Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie Picador, paperback, ISBN 978-1-4472-7137-6
12 March 2015 So You've Been Publicly Shamed Picador, paperback, ISBN 978-0-33049-228-7
October 2016 The Elephant in the Room: A Journey into the Trump Campaign and the 'Alt-Right' E-book, Kindle single

Filmography

  • The Ronson Mission (1994) BBC 2
  • New York to California: A Great British Odyssey (1996) Channel 4
  • Hotel Auschwitz (1996) BBC Radio 4
  • Tottenham Ayatollah (1997) Channel 4
  • Critical Condition (1997) Channel 4
  • Dr Paisley, I Presume (1998) Channel 4
  • New Klan (1999) Channel 4
  • Secret Rulers of the World (2001) Channel 4
  • The Double Life of Jonathan King (2002) Channel 4
  • Kidneys for Jesus (2003) Channel 4
  • I Am, Unfortunately, Randy Newman (2004) Channel 4
  • Crazy Rulers of the World (2004) Channel 4
    • Part 1: "The Men Who Stare at Goats"
    • Part 2: "Funny Torture"
    • Part 3: "The Psychic Footsoldiers"
  • Death in Santaland (2007) More 4, about a foiled school shooting plot in the Christmas-themed town of North Pole, Alaska.
  • Reverend Death (2008) Channel 4, about George Exoo, an advocate of euthanasia.
  • Stanley Kubrick's Boxes [2] (2008)
  • Revelations (2009)
  • Escape and Control (2011)

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