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A First-rate Madness

Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness
Ghaemi, S. Nassir (Book - 2011)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
A First-rate Madness
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"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"--Provided by publisher. 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. "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.
Authors: Ghaemi, S. Nassir
Title: A first-rate madness
uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2011
Characteristics: 340 p. ; 25 cm
Contents: The inverse law of sanity
Creativity. Make them fear and dread us: Sherman ; Work like hell and advertise: Turner
Realism. Heads I win, tails it's chance ; Out of the wilderness: Churchill ; Both read the same Bible: Lincoln
Empathy. Mirror neuron on the wall ; The woes of Mahatmas: Gandhi ; Psychiatry for the American soul: King
Resilience. Stronger ; A first-rate temperament: Roosevelt ; Sickness in Camelot: Kennedy
Treatment. A spectacular psychochemical succcess: Kennedy revisited ; Hitler amok
Mental Health. Homoclite leaders: Bush, Blair, Nixon, and others ; Stigma and politics
Summary: "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"--Provided by publisher.
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. "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.
ISBN: 1594202958
9781594202957
Branch Call Number: 303.34 Gh
Statement of Responsibility: Nassir Ghaemi
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references and index
Subject Headings: Leadership Psychological aspects Depression, Mental Depressed persons Psychology
Topical Term: Leadership
Depression, Mental
Depressed persons
LCCN: 2011010232
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Jun 19, 2014
  • lbarkema rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This was a very interesting topic and concept that is honestly just hard to really prove. He failed to convince me in some parts especially for those with the hyperthymic personalities (to me that was just trying to find a way to prove that great leaders such as FDR and JFK went with his thesis). I would have liked to see more counter-examples for mentally ill leaders who did poorly in times of peace, and mentally healthy leaders who excelled in times of peace. Overall though, an interesting read if mostly just for the historical aspect and learning more about the individual leaders.

May 28, 2012
  • russtm rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Agree with Lauren31's review. Fascinating look at some of the most revered characters in human history.

Oct 25, 2011
  • Lauren31 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Very simply written. Does not go into the case studies as in-depth as you would expect, and does not forcefully make his arguments. Still, an interesting read.

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