A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness

( 36 )

Overview

An investigation into the surprisingly deep correlation between mental illness and successful leadership, as seen through some of history's greatest politicians, generals, and businesspeople.

In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, who runs the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts University Medical Center, draws from the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and others from the past two centuries to build an...

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A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

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Overview

An investigation into the surprisingly deep correlation between mental illness and successful leadership, as seen through some of history's greatest politicians, generals, and businesspeople.

In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, who runs the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts University Medical Center, draws from the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and others from the past two centuries to build an argument at once controversial and compelling: the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders- realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity-also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. By combining astute analysis of the historical evidence with the latest psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.

Take realism, for instance: study after study has shown that those suffering depression are better than "normal" people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln and Churchill among others, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges both personal and national. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder. A First-Rate Madness shows how mania inspired General Sherman and Ted Turner to design and execute their most creative-and successful-strategies.

Ghaemi's thesis is both robust and expansive; he even explains why eminently sane men like Neville Chamberlain and George W. Bush made such poor leaders. Though sane people are better shepherds in good times, sanity can be a severe liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders, Ghaemi explains, can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits. He also clarifies which kinds of insanity-like psychosis-make for despotism and ineptitude, sometimes on a grand scale.

Ghaemi's bold, authoritative analysis offers powerful new tools for determining who should lead us. But perhaps most profoundly, he encourages us to rethink our view of mental illness as a purely negative phenomenon. As A First-Rate Madness makes clear, the most common types of insanity can confer vital benefits on individuals and society at large-however high the price for those who endure these illnesses.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy." Dave Barry's twisted words of wisdom reverberate in this bracing new examination of the surprising links between mental illness and successful leadership. Tufts professor of psychiatry Nassir Ghaemi delves into the mood disorders of revered leaders including Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy, to name only the most luminary. A First-Rate Madness also explores why relatively normal people such as George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter make unsuccessful presidents.

Library Journal
Ghaemi (psychiatry, Tufts Univ.) argues that the best leaders in times of crisis are not the most "normal" but those who've allegedly suffered from some sort of mental illness, such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (depression), Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy (hyperthymia—a sort of slightly manic temperament), and Gen. William T. Sherman (bipolar disorder). While it has previously been noted by many historians that Churchill's depressions and (paradoxically) Roosevelt's upbeat demeanor both were instrumental in rallying their countries, Ghaemi also argues that leaders such as Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and Richard Nixon failed precisely because they were so well adjusted. While this book is an intriguing read, it does not satisfactorily answer the many questions it raises, such as "What is normality?" and "What is and isn't a crisis?" VERDICT Readers who want to explore the relationship between mental illness and achievement would be better off with Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.—Mary Ann Hughes, Shelton, WA
Kirkus Reviews

Ghaemi (Psychology, Tufts Univ. Medical School; The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model, 2009, etc.) insists that failed leaders are mentally healthy. The best crisis leaders, more or less, are crazy.

The author demonstrates his scary thesis by thumbnail psycho-biographies of successful troubled leaders and a few flops who were, apparently, quite normal. Ghaemi's standard diagnostic indicators include symptoms, genetic history, course of illness and treatment. Available medical history and mostly secondary sources serve as validators of mental illnesses in varying severity. General Sherman and Ted Turner, he finds, were hyper-creators. Churchill and Lincoln were depressive realists. Depressed empathy characterized Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.FDR and JFK, both chronically ill, were resiliently manic. In hard times, good politics are bipartisan and great politicians are bipolar. The depressed see life realistically, and the deranged are creative. Though readers may question whether the truly normal can achieve leadership, George W. Bush, forexample,is a normal guy, writes the author in proof of his theory. Among the mentally healthy he places Richard Nixon, who failed in a crisis—one of his own making—because he saw the world clearly. For the most part, Ghaemi writes, Nazis, too, were normal folk. For his hypothesis to be taken seriously, the author was obliged to consider the quintessential psychopathic leader, Adolf Hitler, who was a charismatic leader who became crazy to excess. Ultimately, the author provides an unsatisfying diagnosis of the dictator, and he fails to examine, among others, Stalin, Hussein or bin Laden. A diseased mind, Ghaemi candidly admits, attracts stigma, but he insists that the essence of mental illness promotes crisis leadership.

A diverting, exceedingly provocative argument—sure to attract both skeptical and convinced attention.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202957
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/4/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 522,933
  • Product dimensions: 9.28 (w) x 6.48 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He has published more than a hundred scientific articles and several books on psychiatry.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Inverse Law of Sanity 1

Part 1 Creativity

Chapter 1 Make them Fear and Dread Us: Sherman 23

Chapter 2 Work Like Hell-and Advertise: Turner 40

Part 2 Realism

Chapter 3 Heads I Win, Tails It's Chance 51

Chapter 4 Out of the Wilderness: Churchill 57

Chapter 5 Both Read the Same Bible: Lincoln 68

Part 3 Empathy

Chapter 6 Mirror Neuron on The Wall 79

Chapter 7 The Woes of Mahatmas: Gandhi 87

Chapter 8 Psychiatry for the American Soul: King 99

Part 4 Resilience

Chapter 9 Stronger 117

Chapter 10 A First-Rate Temperament: Roosevelt 130

Chapter 11 Sickness In Camelot: Kennedy 147

Part 5 Treatment

Chapter 12 A Spectacular Psychochemical Success: Kennedy Revisited 169

Chapter 13 Hitler Amok 187

Part 6 Mental Health

Chapter 14 Homoclite Leaders: Bush, Blair, Nixon, and Others 211

Chapter 15 Stigma and Politics 256

Epilogue 266

Acknowledgments 275

Notes 277

Bibliography 319

Index 329

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(14)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Will Definitely Give You A Lot to Think About

    Studying what makes leaders great and what qualities leaders have in common is nothing new but the way that Ghaemi looks at people like Ted Turner, JFK, and Gandhi is off the beaten path. We want to know what made these people great. Why did they rise to the top? How did they become such great leaders? Can we learn from them? Can we emulate their characteristics? This book covers some of the most well known men from the world's recent history. All of the men that Ghaemi covers have one thing in common, they have some sort of mood disorder.

    I really liked the way that this book was laid out. Ghaemi devotes a chapter to each of the characteristics that he claims are both present in great leaders and those that have mood disorders including realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity. Each chapter begins with a description of the characteristic and then profiles of leaders who exemplified those characteristics. It was really interesting to see how that connection between a mood disorder, something that is often seen as debilitating in some way or limiting, and great leadership in tough times.


    The book was fascinating. Ghaemi looks at personal letters and history to show how these leaders were affected by their mood disorders. Ghaemi tests his hypothesis even further by looking at how leaders without mood disorders sometimes don't handle tough times as well as they could. He looks specifically at Tony Blair and George W. Bush. One thing I did wonder is whether or not Ghaemi believes that you must have some sort of mood disorder in order to be a good leader. That point is never really made clear in the book.


    You don't have to be a psychology major to get anything out of this book. Ghaemi does a really good job of both drawing the reader in and giving a thorough picture of where he is coming from. One of my favorite things about books is when I'm left with new questions to explore after I'm finished reading and A First Rate Madness definitely did that for me!


    Bottom line: This is a very interesting study in leadership and gave me a lot of things to think about. This book was definitely enjoyable.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2011

    A must for anyone who is interested in psychology

    this is just a great book, i am four chapter's into it and it keeps getting more interesting as i go. The part that really caught my attention was the whole look at Winston Churchill. very interesting. could use more material for the price but overall a definite 5 star.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2012

    First rate book on temperament

    Nassir Ghaemi's "A First Rate Madness" is a carefully written layman's book on the relationship between leadership and mental abnormality and/or illness. The author posits that this relationship can take strange forms and "illness" doesn't always mean deficit.
    As a bipolar, I learned about my mental makeup while reading about famous leaders whose lives were often strangely similar to mine(and not always in a good way). The author's concept of "empathy" stemming from past depressive episodes can teach us both biography and psychology.
    Dr. Ghaemi is a political liberal, and it shows through in spots. Overall, he tries to remain evenhanded and largely succeeds.
    This conservative bipolar, showing perhaps "openness to experience" recommends "A First Rate Madness".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I read this book during the winter of 2011 when school was out.

    I read this book during the winter of 2011 when school was out. This book is theoretical, to some extent, and thought provoking. Some people question some of the data within, but you have to experience these mental illnesses to understand them but do not romanticize them as the author states.

    I was a little disappointed with Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill being covered for roughly 10 pages each. There is so much information on these two statesmen that I felt they deserved more coverage. As I have seen on book reviews elsewhere, Franklin Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, GA not Hot Springs as the book mentions. And some of the information I did not personally agree with completely when discussing the mental health of current leaders.

    I hope that the original author and other writers will some day expand on this information as I believe it is worth reseaching. Besides these errors, I recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    I began reading this book with high hopes. The premise is intere

    I began reading this book with high hopes. The premise is interesting, but the further I got into the book, the less I enjoyed it. Ghaemi is an academic, and as such should know better than to insert himself into the narrative. He frequently pats himself on the back for his groundbreaking research into historical documents, which is terribly annoying, and unforgivably references himself throughout the work. Also troubling in an academic work is the lack of citations, whether in footnote or endnote form, throughout the text. There are endnotes, and they are occasionally referenced in the narrative, but actual in text citations are lacking. The biggest problem is his blatant insertion of his opinions throughout the book. The fact that he has no reservations about putting his political beliefs in this book is bad enough, but many times his does this with a very loose grasp of historical material. He also fails to offer a reasonable amount of diversity in the leaders he evaluates. Comparing Sherman to Grant to Lincoln isn't exactly a diverse representation of American leadership during the Civil War. Extolling the virtues of FDR and JFK, while lambasting George Bush and Tony Blair, also fails to create a diverse picture of Western leadership in the 20th century. The links to Hitler and JFK are somewhat strange, and the parallel of Bush and Blair to Nazi officers is just ridiculous. The evaluations of Gandhi and MLK Jr. are speculative at best, and the amount of conjecture is insulting. Overall it seems that Ghaemi is championing the idea of bipolar leaders, but a cohesive thesis is somewhat lost by the end of the book. In the end, the book starts with an interesting hypothesis, but rambles on with nonsensical support and excessive conjecture that leaves the reader wishing for more hard facts than opinion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2011

    Not much substance..

    I thought the premise of this book was a stretch and not well supported. There were some interesting historical tid-bits but nothing I hadn't read before.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 2, 2011

    overdone

    This is not a treatise on the relationship between madness and leadership. This book is a never ending justification for proving the point. I am disappointed that a Psychiatrist in Academia could be so sloppy in diagnosing mental illness in historical figures. Often his evidence is only the mental health history of relatives. There is really very little redeeming value in this book. While I realize that just because you are a well educated person does not mean you can write well, there is no excuse why the editors did not correct this. One very disappointing comparison is that of Hitler/Kennedy. His profuse apology prior to the section on Hitler is trite. Mental Illness in any form may have some benefits but this in no way outweighs the toll it takes on the individual. Finally, his frequent mention of how he is the first to read medical reports and points out the omission in other works is egotistical(to diagnose the author myself).

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2011

    interesting

    I hope this turns out to be as good as it looks.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    Danielle

    *Wondering why your never on* hey cory

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

    Danielle

    Yay ur gone

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

    Cory

    Haha *holding ur hand talking all sexy ttou* bye ill miss u

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  • Posted September 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I really wanted to love this book, and I do have to give it a f

    I really wanted to love this book, and I do have to give it a few positive mentions. I did learn some interesting historical facts and I think he had good points in the last chapter on stigma, but with that said on to the negatives. First of all, he makes several inaccurate statements, at one time he says that personality has three aspects when in truth most psychologists and scientists now agree that it has five. Also, on page 197 I believe it was he has a paragraph about how narcissism is not real or scientifically validated when in reality it is in the DSM-IV-TR as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If he disagrees with the disorder and makes an argument for why he doesn't think it exists that is one thing, but just stating that it is not real or scientifically validated and not backing up your argument is a no-no for me.

    Also, I thought he did some leaping for the diagnosis of a few of the historical characters. While it is true that having family members with mental illness can mean you are at a higher risk for developing a mental disorder just because someone has a relative with a mental disorder and maybe mentioned feeling depressed a time or two does not in my opinion justify a leap to a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, for example. I really did want to like the book, but there were just too many leaps and holes in it for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted September 17, 2011

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    Posted November 3, 2011

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    Posted December 2, 2011

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    Posted October 26, 2011

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    Posted February 28, 2012

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    Posted August 7, 2011

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    Posted September 21, 2013

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