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In Sickness and in Power: Illnesses in Heads of Government during the Last 100 Years
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In Sickness and in Power: Illnesses in Heads of Government during the Last 100 Years

by David Owen
 

The course of modern world history has been critically shaped by the physical and mental illnesses of heads of state, sometimes in the public eye but usually in secrecy. Democratic politicians as diverse as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Pompidou, Mitterrand, Blair, George W. Bush, Chirac, and Sharon all lied about their

Overview

The course of modern world history has been critically shaped by the physical and mental illnesses of heads of state, sometimes in the public eye but usually in secrecy. Democratic politicians as diverse as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Pompidou, Mitterrand, Blair, George W. Bush, Chirac, and Sharon all lied about their health. Between 1906 and 2008 seven Presidents are judged to have been mentally ill while in office: Theodore Roosevelt (bipolar disorder), Taft (breathing-related sleep disorder), Wilson (major depressive disorder), Coolidge (major depressive disorder), Hoover (major depressive disorder), Johnson (bipolar disorder), and Nixon (alcohol abuse). Many despots-such as Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Robert Mugabe-have been branded by the press and public opinion as suffering mental illnesses. Lord Owen argues neither Hitler nor Stalin were mad in any sense the medical profession recognizes (whereas Mussolini and Mao had depression, possibly bipolar disorder).

Something happens to some leaders' mental stability while in power that is captured by Bertrand Russell's phrase, the intoxication of power. Hubristic behavior with excessive self-confidence is almost an occupational hazard for heads of government, as it is for leaders in other fields, such as business and the military, for it feeds on isolation and excessive deference. Owen argues that a medically definable condition called Hubris Syndrome affects some heads of government the longer they stay in office or after a specific triggering event such as 9/11. Recent leaders such as George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Margaret Thatcher have developed Hubris Syndrome. Symptoms include patterns of reckless behavior, bad judgment, and operational incompetence, often compounded by delusions of personal infallibility and divine exemption from political accountability. Lord Owen makes the cases that democratic societies need to implement new procedures for dealing with illness in their own heads of government, and that they need to empower the United Nations to use new procedures and means for removing despots whose behavior becomes so hubristic as to pose a grave threat to their own people or the world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In Sickness and in Power contains … substantial case histories showing that bodily disorders affecting leaders have had major political consequences. … There is certainly added value in David Owen having known many of the recent figures personally. … The one scoop in this material is the author's access to Eden's hitherto closed medical records. … In the author's view, greater honesty and openness about the leader's health — as shown by Eisenhower — is the best safeguard against the adverse consequences of illness, whether mental or physical.'
" - Times Literary Supplement

"This is an interesting work. It is not primarily a medical treatise, but instead a provocative observation of the world of politics. It is an important commentary on the relationship between personality and behavior and the character and consequences of leadership." - The New England Journal of Medicine

"David Owen's fascinating In Sickness and in Power is a study of the medical conditions of rulers ranging from Anthony Eden to JFK and from the Shah of Persia to Francois Mitterrand. Which is more alarming: the fact that they all suffered from illnesses that would have debarred them from top-level positions in almost any other walk of life, or the systematic deception that concealed their true condition from the people they led? A book to give you sleepless nights" - The New Statesman

"In Sickness and in Power examines how both specific diseases and intoxication with power have shaped major decisions by world leaders in the twentieth century….For many heads of state, the experience of being in power brings about psychological changes that can lead to grandiosity, narcissism, and irresponsible behavior. Leaders suffering from this political hubris syndrome believe that they are capable of great deeds, that great deeds are expected of them, that they know what is best under all circumstances, and that they operate beyond the bounds of ordinary morality….Owen is not the first to observe that hubris sometimes overtakes leaders, but he is the first to argue that it is a pathological condition that requires serious study, especially of the ways in which is affects decision-making….Owen's book should be read by all practicing physicians responsible for the health of political leaders—and by the leaders themselves." - Foreign Affairs

"Former British foreign secretary and physician Lord David Owen (Univ. of Liverpool) presents a wealth of material in this study of illness in political leaders from 1900-2007…Overall, this is a timely intervention in an overlooked field of inquiry…Highly recommended. All levels/libraries." - Choice

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780313360053
Publisher:
ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date:
05/30/2008
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Davidson

"A compelling, timely and much-needed account about heads of government and their personal health. Lord Owen's unique qualifications as a politician and physician make this an authoritative and landmark work. Fascinating individual case histories, and the problems they raise, are presented in lucid and scholarly fashion. Lord Owen's description of the hubris syndrome is an important contribution to the clinical literature and will surely provoke further efforts to understand it, as well as hopefully lessen its potential to cause harm. The book concludes with some well-reasoned potential solutions on how to prevent and contain the possible damage which can arise from impaired health in a head of state. Essential reading."

Jonathan Davidson, MD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center

D. R. Thorpe
"Lord Owen's chapter on Anthony Eden will surely now be accepted as the definitive account of the effect of his illness on his decision-making during the Suez Crisis."
Jonathan Davidson
"A compelling, timely and much-needed account about heads of government and their personal health. Lord Owen's unique qualifications as a politician and physician make this an authoritative and landmark work. Fascinating individual case histories, and the problems they raise, are presented in lucid and scholarly fashion. Lord Owen's description of the hubris syndrome is an important contribution to the clinical literature and will surely provoke further efforts to understand it, as well as hopefully lessen its potential to cause harm. The book concludes with some well-reasoned potential solutions on how to prevent and contain the possible damage which can arise from impaired health in a head of state. Essential reading."

Richard Reeves

"Lord Owen's unique credentials as politician and physician make In Sickness and Power an essential book for those of us interested in a deeper look at why leaders do what they do. It is an astonishing piece of work."

Richard Reeves, Author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power

D. R. Thorpe

"Lord Owen's chapter on Anthony Eden will surely now be accepted as the definitive account of the effect of his illness on his decision-making during the Suez Crisis."

D. R. Thorpe, Author of Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977

Richard Reeves
"Lord Owen's unique credentials as politician and physician make In Sickness and Power an essential book for those of us interested in a deeper look at why leaders do what they do. It is an astonishing piece of work."

Meet the Author

David Owen (Lord Owen) is Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. He was the British Foreign Secretary under Prime Minister James Callaghan from 1977 to 1979. He co-founded the Social Democratic Party in 1981 and led it from 1983 to 1990. As EU negotiator, he collaborated with Cyrus Vance, former US Secretary of State, to put forward the Vance-Owen Peace Plan for Bosnia in 1993. Before entering politics, he practiced as a clinical neurologist and psychiatrist at St. Thomas's Hospital in London. Lord Owen was Minister of State for Health from 1974 to 1976. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and sits on the board of Abbott Laboratories. He is the author of eleven books, including The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power, In Sickness and in Health: The Politics of Medicine, Face the Future (Praeger Publishers), and A Future That Will Work (Praeger Publishers).

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