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A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness [Kindle Edition]

Nassir Ghaemi
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $11.81
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

An investigation into the surprisingly deep correlation between mental illness and successful leadership, as seen through the lives of some of the most important political figures in history

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 mood illnesses (depression and bipolar disorder) and leadership. He sets forth a controversial, compelling thesis: the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders—creativity, resilience, empathy, and realism—also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of the “depressive realism” and creativity of mentally ill or mentally abnormal figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the lackluster leadership of “mentally normal” men such as Neville Chamberlain, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, A First-Rate Madness overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind and provides a unique insight for understanding our current political leaders and presidential candidates going into the next election season.


A First-Rate Madness includes profiles of Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ted Turner, among other famous leaders.

Editorial Reviews


“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

About the Author

NASSIR GHAEMI is a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the Mood Disorders Program. He trained in psychiatry at, and also serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and has degrees in history (BA, George Mason University), philosophy (MA, Tufts), and public health (MPH, Harvard). He has published more than one hundred scientific articles and several books on psychiatry.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
175 of 192 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb and insightful...essential reading. August 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the best book I have read all year.
First of all, Dr. Ghaemi is a world-class psychiatrist; he is THE expert on issues of mood disorder (my wife is a psychiatrist and says that Dr. Ghaemi is the very best in the nation in his Continuing Medical Education teaching). So, he truly knows what he is writing about.
The structure of the book essentially follows the pattern of a chapter which describes the state-of-the-art in psychiatry as to a given diagnosis, followed by mini-biographies in two chapters of two historical figures who are exemplars of leadership with the particular diagnosis that Dr. Ghaemi has described. The manner in which he uses historical evidence to arrive at his diagnosis is seamless.
Among the historical figures profiled are Lincoln, General Sherman, Hitler, Gandhi, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., FDR and JFK. There is a profile of Ted Turner, unusual because he is the only living example profiled (and the only non-political leader). Toward the end of the book there is extensive commentary about Nixon, Dubya, Tony Blair and some insights about Clinton, Truman, Eisenhower and even Newt Gingrich along the way.
I have read at least one biography of each figure he profiles (except for Ted Turner). I can vouch for the historical accuracy of Dr. Ghaemi's book in all regards except for two minor points about FDR: he was not a member of Woodrow Wilson's cabinet and he was not Secretary of the Navy (he was #2, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy).
The endnotes are also a magnificent treasure-trove of information.
Superb book, well-written by someone who knows his material.
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76 of 99 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The title will certainly attract readers. This doctor's main thesis really should be at least considered as a pretty good explanation of the actions and behaviors (or lack of same) of some of our leaders, especially under duress. However, we probably should not find ourselves electing only "mentally ill" candidates just so that there will be highly creative and resilient people in the saddle in case a crisis occurs.

From the title alone, the reader may immediately infer that this book is all about the genius of schizophrenic presidents. That's not what the author wants to tell us. Dr. Ghaemi seems to have only one way to define "mental illness": "manic-depression" (or "bipolar disorder", as it's called today). He doesn't really come out at the start and state that it's only bipolar disorder that he will be discussing with regard to certain leaders. But schizophrenia and paranoia do not seem to fit into his analysis. He even states that neurosis is a normal part of the human personality, which came as a surprise to me.

I was ultimately satisfied by Dr. Ghaemi's arguments on the behaviors of the so-called "mentally ill" leaders he singles out as examples. The chapters on JFK and on Hitler and his Nazi entourage are real eye-openers.

But I was shocked by the doctor's arguments regarding Nixon, and by his dismissal of the extensive media and historical commentary, as well as the observations of millions of contemporary TV viewers, about this president's clearly visible mental state. He didn't sell me on this one.

As to the leaders whom Dr. Ghaemi does not select for his category of "mentally ill" -- among them Tony Blair, Truman and Eisenhower -- I agree with his assessment of the first man, but absolutely not the second or third.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a First-Rate Book August 30, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Dr Ghaemi's book goes awry right of the bat with its title which promises that we are going learn juicy stuff about madness and mental illness in our leaders. But unfortunately he plays fast and loose with terms. Madness suggests not just mental illness, but fairly extreme mental illness. Psychosis is madness. Catatonia is madness. True delusions are madness. False paranoia is madness. The persistent sadness of depression is a symptom of mental illness perhaps, but not madness. Perhaps someone who stays awake for days on end frantically churning out hundreds of paintings is mad. A bit of hypomania is not. Certainly there are leaders who have and have suffered from bona fide mental illnesses (and he discusses some of them). And some have been quite mad. But Ghaemi includes all the above under the umbrella of "madness." By being loosey-goosey with his definitions, by forcing his analyses into a power-point-like presentation, and because of his glibness and sloppiness with his evidence, he really doesn't get us anywhere very worth going. Which is a shame. We could certainly use more understanding of mental illness and just as much,we could use a better understanding of what to look for in selecting our leaders. We really would benefit from some insights into the not so obvious factors influencing how they make decisions: not only whom they owe and whom they might fear but how they want to be seen, what their core beliefs are, how they handle their anger, how they deceive themselves, how impulsive they are or how indecisive. We should want to know how well they can think creatively in addressing difficult relationships between various groups, in addressing conflicting interests, in presenting hard issues. How well can they work to persuade ordinary people, to care deeply about people? Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars and hyperthymic personalities) are the best leaders during crises
The book explains why mentally ill (depressed, bipolar, and hyperthymic personalities) are the best leaders during crises.
Published 4 days ago by Brennan
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Different Look at some of our World Leaders.
Extremely interesting premise where the author states that those leaders who excelled in crisis were somewhat mental unstable, while those who were considered normal amd were... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine writer
Fluid reading, readable writing. Learned much. Laugh if you'd like but Ghaemi's book here is the first I have read through as a young adult and because of it I have never stopped... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Shay
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth buying, not borrowing.
Very interesting theory.
Published 20 days ago by Professor_mommy
2.0 out of 5 stars Faulty logic..
Two stars for book bringing some lesser known sides of the historical personalities, and as such worthy read for history buff. Read more
Published 23 days ago by boulder_cons
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book
This book was good though I thought the author was trying to diagnose from a far. Could have took a deeper dive into leaders with mental illness during peace time.
Published 1 month ago by James Allen
5.0 out of 5 stars Leadership scholars take heed
I have found myself referring back to this book numerous times, in my own writing and even occasionally in the classroom. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nathan Harter
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
Excellent read!!! It was very well-written with historical findings and psychological research. Be empowered by the possibilities of those with mental illness rather than have... Read more
Published 2 months ago by coolsinginbabe6
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty interesting, though not perfect
I was definitely drawn in by the title, as the title was intended to do. I'd always been interested in the link between madness and genius, but had never delved into the link... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate All The Way!
This was an absolutely fantastic book. I love how Ghaemi fuses history with psychology in showing the illnesses (or lack thereof) and leadership capacities of his subjects. Read more
Published 3 months ago by btwhite22
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Topic From this Discussion
"...occasional mistakes..." alienate THIS reader
""Those critical of the book for...the occasional mistakes, are in my view missing the huge point that really matters..."
The huge point that really matters is: how many mistakes were made elsewhere (in the thought process, in the selection of leaders to analyze, in the analysis... Read More
Mar 4, 2014 by now what |  See all 2 posts
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