Here, Nassir Ghaemi 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: studies show that those suffering depression are better than “normal” people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln, Churchill, and others, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder. This book explains how mania inspired General Sherman and Ted Turner to design and execute their most creative—and successful—strategies.
Ghaemi’s thesis is robust and expansive; he even explains why 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 liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits.
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 this book 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.
©2011 Nassir Ghaemi (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“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, New York Times best-selling author of A History of the American People)
I first heard of Nassir Ghaemi from a lecture on ADHD and Bipolar and then found several friends who recommended this book. It journeys into the lives of key leaders who changed the world, and tells the story which at the time the world was not yet open to hear. With public stigma and misunderstanding, if Kennedy was known to have mental issues and take drugs would the world so widely have accepted him? What about Abraham Lincoln? Why was Hitler so cruel (could drugs have made him worse?)? As a psychiatry resident I work with hundreds of patients who look for hope, meaning in the midst of their mental illness. This book can decrease your stigma of mental illness and also open up your mind to the possibility of mental illness being a positive thing in some situations.
The thesis is so well developed, the gifts which accompany depression and mania create the best crisis leaders. I feel I better understand leaders like Sherman, FDR, Lincoln, JFK and the business leadership of Ted Turner.
Warning---SPOILER ALERT---Don't look down if you haven't read the book yet.
The contrast between JFK when he was poorly medicated and well medicated. I've often read about the difference between his early and late presidency in terms of critical decision making, but never with such insight.
I really want to follow up with a book on Churchill.
I can't say it was exactly my favorite, but I am glad that I know Hitler was taking intravenous methamphetamine five times a day for the last four years of his life. I feel like I better understand how horrific results follow an evil mind wielding limitless power when it is clinically sick and made even worse through severe drug addiction.
I got choked up at the march on Washington. Looking at the momentous occasion while cognizant of the depression forged empathy of both JFK and Martin Luther King made it all the more moving.
I had no idea that JFK nearly died so many times. I liked the comparison of FDR before and after polio.
If your criterion for what makes for a first-rate non-fiction book is for you to change your thinking, then A First-Rate Madness should go into your reading list.
Since antiquity some thinkers have argued that madness and genius are closely related. Ghaemi makes a compelling case for this being true, at least for certain disorders: hyperthymia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Ghaemi also makes an interesting case for how drugs can modulate the disorders to make leaders more effective, with JFK as an example, or can worsen their disorders, showing how Hitler dramatically worsened when he started taking intravenous methamphetamine five times a day.
Depressive episodes give the leader greater empathy and realism. Hyperthymia and mania give the leader greater creativity and huge bursts of energy at critical moments.
Ghaemi argues that these first-rate mad leaders are optimal for periods of crisis because of the superior perspective and depth their madness gives them. Correspondingly,Ghaemi argues that while mentally normal leaders are likely to do a better job during non-crisis times, during crises they are prone to blundering because of their shallowness.
Ghaemi presents his argument via the case method, with biographies of several famous leaders going back to the American Civil War. These biographies focus on the leaders' mental state, using the same methodologies used to diagnose living patients.
The result is a tour de force that will appeal to readers interested in leadership, psychology, and biography alike.
Sean Runnette, as usual, does an excellent narration.
A First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadrship and Mental Illness is a book you might want to read. Some will find the historical illustrations thin while others may find the analysis provided a stretch in place, but Nassiar Ghaemi has published one interesting book. Ghaemi is the director of the Mood Disorder Program at Tuft Medical School. Using available historical and medical evidence, he argues that various mood disorders can be linked to success in leadership situations. In individual sections he takes up creativity, realism, empathy, and resilience. He finally takes up treatment and mental in general. Along the way, he illustrates his views using the lives of well known persons including Bush, Blair, Nixon, JFK, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Lincoln Churchill. Just the character sketches that Ghaemi uses is worth the price of the book. This is one of the more thought provoking books that I have read in the past couple of years. Readers will approach leadership differently after completing this volume. The reading of Sean Runnette is excellent.
Very well written on organized. His writing style is lucid, almost poetic at times. This is no easy feat for someone who I suspect, English was not a first language. He seems to be a compassionate Psychiatrist with a passion for history. Mental illness is to this day, a dirty word, the mentally ill are 'less than.' Historians almost universally ignore the subject. The achievement of some of the great leaders in history are all the more remarkable given the 'handicaps' of Depression, alcoholism and Bi-Polar disorders.
Effective psychiatric drugs are of recent origin, getting them to therapeutic levels is no small feat even today. For historic leaders who had to ride of the roller coaster of mania and depression without analysis or medication, the journey to greatness was a torturous path.
Thus the insight of this book, for me, is resilience.
Bill Gates once said that success is a lousy teacher.
In moments of historical crisis, it is often those that have been knocked down time and time again by self inflicted or inherited mental illness that have the resilience to face down crisis one more time.
The history of Martin Luther King. King was like a young blue star, burning white hot with a passion for justice and prophetic vision for American, yet he faced fear and death on a daily basis. While mania was the cause of this passion, it might have been part of the actions he took. When the Voting Rights Act of 1964 was passed, King became the
'grand old man' of civil rights. Depression can extinguish even the brightest star.
That Gandhi, who could relate to, and bring hope to an entire planet, could not relate to his family/son.
This is a must read for Historians, Psychiatrists and other mental health / Addiction Professionals. For those who have suffered from mental illness,
or love those who do,
mental illness is not a dirty word, indeed, its fellow traveler, resilience, is something that has come to the rescue of nations more than once.
Anyone who finds the inner workings of the mind of interest will enjoy this book. It sees mental illness from a perspective not often contemplated. It demonstrates that, for good or bad, we owe much of our history to the mental illness of various leaders.
Dear Future Readers
I wish our history books had shown and explained the insights of how mental illness helped save out world. This books captures that and more. The research done for each chapter is phenomenal. I listened to the chapters on the way to work. It is very hard for me to read because of my degree of blindness.
If history had shown mental illness in this positive light from the beginning, I don't believe the stigma attached would have even developed line it is today.
Speaking as a physician we see it as just another disease that needs to be treated. But the world continues to call that person "crazy". But in reality it is just a severe chemical imbalance that they were born with. They can't help it. Until you have a family member or a friend who has gone through this, you will never understand the daily struggle of cyclic emotions they endure.
People need to have empathy for the mentally ill. That is completely lacking till today. They are the "dark geniuses" of our world and with that comes massive brain power, amazing creativity, true realism, amazing peripheral vision and boundless empathy. They move the world. Without them we are ordinary. They have and will continue shape our lives everyday for the better.
My hats off to the author for writhing this so eloquently and truthfully.
Dr Ghaemi, thank you for writhing this book. It was just simply awesome ....
A great interpretation of historical figures and their impact from a new approach. Information presentation supports his beliefs well. Would love further study. Shows that all people are capable of good and bad. What is thought of bad traits can be very useful and how "average" is just that and are capable of terrible things.
I am a clinical psychologist, so I realize I may not be the target audience for this book. I think that was part of the problem, as I was rather uninterested by the author's education on various psychological disorders. I'm also not a huge history buff, but there were a few individuals I was interested in learning more about. Regardless, even excluding the fact that I already knew a great deal of information that the author shared regarding mental illness, I found the book to be written in a rather redundant and repetitive fashion. I skipped parts of about two chapters, and honestly didn't really want to finish the book, but I hate to not finish anything that I paid for, so I did.
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