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

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

by Nassir Ghaemi


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The New York Times bestseller

"Ghaemi isn't the first to claim that madness is a close relative of genius, or even the first to extend this idea into politics. But he does go further than others...His explanations are elegant, too - intuitively accurate and banked off the latest psychiatric research." -Newsweek

Historians have long puzzled over the apparent mental instability of great and terrible leaders alike: Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, and others. In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, offers a myth-shattering exploration of the powerful connections between mental illness and leadership and sets forth a controversial, compelling thesis: The very qualities that mark those with mood disorders also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of Lincoln's "depressive realism" to the lackluster leadership of exceedingly sane men as Neville Chamberlain, A First-Rate Madness overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143121336
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 78,003
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.

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

What People are Saying About This

Paul Johnson

Nassir Ghamei's book is a provocative examination of the link between leadership, depression and mania. It will arouse enormous interest, together with anger and disagreement, and many people will want to read it. (Paul Johnson, author of Churchill, A History of the American People, and Modern Times)

Michael Fellman

With brilliance and courage, Ghaemi explores the relationship of mental illness to creative leadership in times of crisis. He explains with great clarity the myriad meanings of mood disorder and other illnesses, and ties this analysis to compassionate historical discussions of many of the most—and least—successful major leaders of the past two hundred years. This is a first-rate book. (Michael Fellman, Professor Emeritus of History at Simon Fraser University; author of Citizen Sherman and In the Name of God and Country)

Stephen Kinzer

No one who reads this brilliantly insightful book will ever look at history or politics the same way. Ghaemi uses his deep knowledge of medicine and psychiatry to take readers on a fascinating voyage into the minds of great leaders. His conclusions are startling, provocative, disturbing and deeply persuasive. (Stephen Kinzer, author of Reset, Overthrow and All the Shah's Men)

Joshua Wolf Shenk

Considered together, and with such rigor and clarity as they are here, these stories are staggering. If so many leaders have suffered so hard, we may well ask: What is 'mental health' anyway? Certainly, we need to reconsider sentimental notions of greatness and heroism. With deft use of biographical and psychiatric detail, Ghaemi exposes a central current of human experience that badly needs this kind of careful and sensitive attention. (Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy)

Thomas Moore

Plato said it first: We all have a degree of madness that can serve our creativity. Nassir Ghaemi has said it again in the language of psychiatry, in a book that is so well written and so full of engaging stories that you'll want to embrace his point of view. Dr. Ghaemi turns upside down our usual way of seeing. You will enjoy this challenging book and be thrown into wonder about the value of sanity and the perverse gifts of neurosis. (Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and Care of the Soul in Medicine)

From the Publisher

“A glistening psychological history, faceted largely by the biographies of eight famous leaders… A First-Rate Madness is carefully plotted and sensibly argued.”

“Ghaemi isn’t the first to claim that madness is a close relative of genius, or even the first to extend the idea into politics. But he does go further than others… His explanations are elegant, too—intuitively accurate and banked off the latest psychiatric research.”

“A provocative thesis… Ghaemi’s book deserves high marks for original thinking.” –THE WASHINGTON POST

“Ghaemi is a remarkably disciplined writer, and he examines both psychiatry and history with impressive clarity and sensitivity. A First-Rate Madness will almost certainly be one of the most fascinating books of the year, not just because of the author's lucid prose and undeniable intelligence, but because of his provocative thesis: "For abnormal challenges, abnormal leaders are needed."” —NPR.ORG

“Provocative, fascinating.” –SALON.COM

Daniel Dennett

Nassir Ghaemi reinvents psychohistory as a serious form of scientific inquiry. Along the way, he presents a bounty of startling facts about some of history's great heroes and villains. Under his highly informed and skeptical gaze, our burnished icons—Lincoln and Sherman, Churchill and Hitler, Kennedy and Nixon, and others—are in for some serious resculpting. (Daniel Dennett, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University; author of Breaking the Spell, Freedom Evolves, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea)

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