Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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


A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness
Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, Author

Nassir Ghaemi MD MPH is an academic psychiatrist specializing in mood illnesses, especially bipolar disorder.
He is Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the Mood Disorders Program. He is a also a Clinical Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and teaches at the Cambridge Health Alliance.

Amazon.com Book Description. A First-Rate Madness: 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. Read more here

National Public Radio, 'Madness' And Leadership, Hand In Hand
The New York Times, What Befits a Leader in Hard Times?
American Scientific, MIND Reviews: A First-Rate Madness
 Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, Author’s website

Kirkus Book Review
Barnes and Nobel

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi
Psychology Today, Mood Swings blog
Dr. Nassir Ghaemi
Published on August 9, 2011


Many great leaders have been mentally ill, mainly with severe depression and sometimes with mania.  This is not an entirely controversial statement.  It is generally accepted by historians that Abraham Lincoln had severe depression, and so did Winston Churchill.  Both were suicidal at times.  Some other figures are less well-known but the documentary evidence is relatively strong: General William Sherman was removed from command because of concerns that he was insane.  He appeared, in retrospect, to have experienced a manic episode with paranoid delusions; he also had,throughout his life, episodes of severe depression, along with occasional suicidal thoughts.  Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King both made suicide attempts in adolescence, and each had at least two severe depressive episodes in their lifetimes. Read more here

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