American Psycho Book Summary - American Psycho Book explained in key points
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American Psycho summary

Bret Easton Ellis

A Violent Satire on Modern Capitalism and Corporate Greed

3.7 (10 ratings)
19 mins

What is American Psycho about?

American Psycho (1991) is a controversial cult novel that uses graphic violence to satirize modern capitalism and consumer culture. It follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a wealthy and handsome investment banker living in Manhattan in the 1980s. Beneath his polished exterior lies a psychopathic killer who preys on his victims without remorse. Bateman’s exploits quickly grow more and more extreme, and his mask of sanity starts to slip.

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    American Psycho
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    The Cruel Cosmos of Wall Street Yuppies

    American Psycho begins with an allusion to another, much older work – Dante’s Inferno. In the Italian writer’s epic poem, the gates of Hell are inscribed with the phrase, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” In the opening scene of American Psycho, this phrase appears as graffiti scrawled along the side of a bank.

    It’s a fair warning to us as we enter the world of young investment banker Patrick Bateman. Bateman is in his mid-twenties and works at a Wall Street company called Pierce & Pierce. He’s handsome, successful, and incredibly jaded. His life is an endless montage of working out, fancy dinners, and sexual flings.

    In the opening scene, Bateman is in a cab on the way to dinner at his girlfriend's house. Next to him, his colleague Tim Price is rambling about his great qualities while casually disparaging women, homeless and gay people, and their immigrant cab driver. 

    Bateman’s girlfriend, Evelyn, who also works in finance, has prepared expensive sushi for the evening. Bateman suspects that she’s having an affair with Tim. But he’s more bothered by the young, unkempt artist pair Evelyn has invited. The evening culminates with Bateman giving a standard conservative speech on how to fix America: strengthening the middle class, preventing welfare abuse, and – ironically – curbing graphic depictions of sex and violence on TV.

    In the next chapters, we learn more about Bateman’s day-to-day life. He lives in a chic apartment on the Upper West Side, where he likes to listen to music and watch movies. He has a disciplined workout schedule and a multiple-step skincare routine. 

    Almost every night, he hangs out with his finance friends. They go to a bar called Harry’s, expensive restaurants, and nightclubs. They drink, smoke cigars, and do coke. Their topics of conversation never change. They consult Bateman on questions of business fashion; make jokes about homeless, Jewish, gay, and Black people; and comment crudely on attractive women, whom they call “hardbodies.” 

    Bateman appears to be both fully invested in and deeply bored with his yuppie lifestyle. In one iconic dinner scene, he tries to impress his colleagues with his new bone-colored business card – only to find himself in deep distress at realizing his colleagues’ business cards are even classier.


    The first chapters of the novel introduce us to the world of Patrick Bateman. It’s a world of Wall Street yuppies – ruled by money, consumption, and superficiality. 

    Bateman’s first-person narration gives us insight into his system of values. He’s as obsessed with material possessions as with his own appearance. His great American idol is Donald Trump. And he can conceive of others – women in particular – only as objects for his own entertainment. 

    But disturbingly, all these traits are all shared by the people around him. Bateman’s colleagues appear just as cruel as he is – routinely offering sexist, racist, and classist observations. One of them casually talks about “blowing someone’s head off.” 

    Author Bret Easton Ellis is setting the stage: The transition between verbal and physical violence will be seamless.

    Bateman also reveals himself to be an unreliable narrator. He frequently confuses his finance buddies for one another (and is in turn frequently mistaken by them). And we get first hints at his murderous inclinations through occasional offhand remarks. For instance, he mentions a serrated knife in his pocket, and masturbating to a movie scene in which a woman is murdered. 

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    About the Author

    Bret Easton Ellis is an American author and screenwriter known for provocative works of fiction like his nihilistic debut novel Less Than Zero (1985). He’s recognized for his dark, satirical writing style and potent critiques of contemporary culture and social mores. American Psycho is both his most famous and most controversial novel. In 2019, he published his first nonfiction book, White, taking on the failings of left liberalism.

    Who should read American Psycho?

    • Fans of the the 2000 movie starring Christian Bale
    • Readers who enjoy Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and William S. Burroughs
    • Anyone who enjoys dark humor

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