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The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America Hardcover – March 1, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Diagnosing the psychiatric condition of dead historical figures is risky business, and in a largely unconvincing book, Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Gartner falls prey to the modern tendency to reduce an individual's actions to a psychiatric diagnosis. He argues that hypomania--a mild form of mania--drove many of America's most famous leaders and entrepreneurs to succeed. The characteristics of hypomania include a restless energy channeled into wildly grand ambitions, a tendency toward euphoria and a feeling of being destined to change the world. In nine brief psychobiographies, Gartner imposes this diagnostic scheme on figures ranging from Christopher Columbus and John Winthrop to David O. Selznick and Craig Venter, the genome entrepreneur. He also contends that hypomania is a peculiarly American trait. Applying terms like "depression" and "hypomania" to Winthrop's spiritual ups and downs, for instance, is anachronistic and reductionist. Gartner does provide some proof of his theory with Venter, whose life and work can be scrutinized firsthand, though he hasn't been on Gartner's couch. The author offers us few useful insights into the lives of these historical figures, nor does he seem to have any qualms about framing his case for an "American temperament" solely in male terms.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

By success, clinical psychologist Gartner means the impressive material achievements of the U.S. When he says "hypomanic," he refers not to clinical mental illness but to "a temperament, characterized by an elevated mood state that feels 'highly intoxicating, powerful, productive and desirable,'" that can, and sometimes does, easily tip over into full-blown manic depression. One by one he puts several Founding Fathers and a handful of epic-level business leaders--the likes of Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, and genome giant Craig Ventor--through psychological tests to determine whether they fit the hypomanic mold. Turns out, Gartner says, that not only have many of the nation's most charismatic leaders been certifiable hypomanics but at least one was, quite likely, genuinely bipolar. Lest anybody think this is a bad thing, Gartner asserts that without the risk-taking, no-holds-barred temperaments of these overachievers, the U.S. would never have gained its current status as the wealthiest nation in the world. Entertaining, thought-provoking stuff. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743243447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743243445
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Allan Gold on March 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
John Gartner's unique new book is a tour de force It is a page turner which I could not put down. Dr. Gartner brings to life men from each of America's five centuries as he interweaves his story of how genetically driven mood alteration altered America. Hypomania is a form of bipolar disorder that gave these men the restless energy, incessant sleepless speech and work capacities that made them world altering giants, but also the impulsivity, reckless speech, and, with most, delusional excesses which sowed the seeds of their ultimate personal decline. The book reads like a novel but cites an impressive array of sources in over 800 footnotes to document his thesis that America is a nation of immigrants who come here because of their bipolar genes. This "immigrant drive" made America a leader in business, the arts, science, religion and finance, and Dr. Gartner demonstrates how with literary skill and clincal accuracy.

He writes of the supreme accomplishments and pathological excesses of Christopher Columbus, 17th century religious leaders, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnagie, the Hollywood Selznicks and Mayers, and the discoverer of the human genome Craig Venter. In each chapter Dr. Gartner gives the reader the background history, and sociological and technological information necessary to highlight the significance of the person's achievment. He uses written sources, but also has impressively and extensively interviewed biographers, colleagues, decendents, and

Dr. Venter himself, making the stories The Hypomanic Edge with information, surprises, humor, and compassion.

As a practicing psychoanalyst and psychiatrist I was very impressed with the scientific quality of the book, but having shared the book with several members of my family, I can attest that the the non-professional reader will find the book equally compelling.
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Format: Hardcover
Carrie Fisher, in addition to acting, is the author of acclaimed novels, and is a highly respected "script doctor." She is also bipolar, and has commented, "It's not all bad. The manic end is a lot of fun... just fantastic."

Dr. Gartner argues that mania and hypomania - the "manic end" of the mood spectrum - are radically different. He acknowledges that mania "is a severe illness... Manic episodes almost always end in hospitalization. People who are highly energized, and also in most cases psychotic, do bizarre things that are dangerous, frightening, and disruptive."

In the book, he gives clear explanations based on his clinical experience, plus stories of accomplished people which support the main theme of the book: that many, perhaps most, successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople are hypomanic.

It is easy to find many examples of leaders in business and the arts who show the typical range of traits: "filled with energy... flooded with ideas... driven, restless, and unable to keep still... often works on little sleep... feels brilliant, special, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world... can be euphoric... is a risk taker..."

It is helpful to understand these qualities are not necessarily pathological, but positive qualities that talented people can use for success.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a former patient of Dr. Gartner and a mentalhealth professional as well. In reading his book and then reading some of the reviews( especially the NY Times interview) I began to wonder if we were all reading the same book. I found the book to be entetaining, funny and astoundly accurate. I have treated many patients who are exactly as John describes in his book. I my self have or have had most of the characteristics described in "the Hypomanic Edge". When I spoke with Dr. Gartner last week he asked me what I thought, I told him you "got it right!". I have long held the view that most of the written material in field is just recycled trivia, completely useless. This book is ground breaking and we need more of John Gartner and less of Dr. Phil and his ilk who write books that are more Jacquline Susan and about as usefull as the novel "Love Story".

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are wondering whether you should buy this book based on a desire to learn about hypomanics - Buy it! The time you invest in reading this book is nicely hedged. At worst, you will get a series of well-written biographies of extremely interesting people. More likely, you also will learn the mind of the hypomanic. At best, someone you care a lot about may be much better understood, and this someone may be yourself.

The concept of the book gets five stars. The stories that compose the biographies are told very well, but only very well, which is what drops the review to four stars.

If you are truly hypomanic, I'm sure you will rate it 7 stars!
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Format: Hardcover
A warning about this book first; when I got it in the mail I had other work planned that evening but once I started reading I couldn't stop until the end. It's well written and entertaining but most importantly thought provoking. Rigorous science it is not and I can't comment on the historical biographies as my field is medicine, not history.

John Gartner makes a compelling case for immigrant populations being enriched in people who have bipolar traits. Given a sufficient number of them in the population, and you get places like America, Australia and Canada whose populations are almost entirely made up of immigrants. America seems to have a critical mass of bipolars which makes it even more attractive to other bipolars and, in John Gartner's view, one ends up with the positive feedback loops of energetic people making things happen at a far greater rate than anywhere else in the world. This also explains many of the down sides to America as bipolarity also has a depressive side and bipolars can be very impulsive.

Obviously this book only looks at one aspect of what makes America unique but I've found it very thought provoking. Many of John Gartner's assertions are important scientific questions that need to be answered through proper controlled studies. I had been toying with some of the same ideas over the years, but John Gartner put them all together in this book.
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