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King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership Paperback – May 7, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Applying the insights of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology to political leadership, University of Kentucky emeritus professor of psychiatry Arnold M. Ludwig (How Do We Know Who We Are?) in King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership compares human rulers to primates, arguing that male politicians, like their simian alpha-male cohorts, are adept at gaining, exercising and keeping power. Ludwig then focuses closely on 377 world leaders, including Idi Amin, Tony Blair, Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan examining a string of traits to identify what he considers the factors that determine a leader's greatness: the addition of new territory, military prowess, economic prosperity, etc. Although Ludwig presents exhaustive research, many of his assumptions such as that all societies want a ruler because it's the natural order of things lack support. Moreover, Ludwig quickly loses sight of his (somewhat shaky) thesis that human politicians derive their leadership drive from their primate ancestors. 29 b&w illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"The author measures each [leader] on an index of political greatness and explores the common predilection toward conflict and war. This book will serve readers at all levels."―Choice

"Every single page contains something striking and thought-provoking."―Fortean Times

"World politics is made by world leaders. These men (very few are women), who love to present themselves as having their people's interests at heart, are driven by the same desire for power recognized by every primatologist as a universal alpha male characteristic. Based on nearly two thousand profiles of political leaders, King of the Mountain drives this point home as no other book before."―Frans B. M. de Waal, author of Chimpanzee Politics

"A unique and important contribution. . . . The insights and analyses have far-reaching consequences to all fields of human endeavor, especially to politics. . . . Clear, cogent, and at times laced with humor."―George Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society

"An enjoyable book. The statistical tables alone are worth the price."―Journal of the American Medical Association

"There is a richness to Ludwig's approach that is very appealing."―Leadership

"A scholarly attempt to measure political leadership with the cool objectivity of science."―New York Times

"A thoroughly enjoyable read. . . . Ludwig's eye for an anecdote is a good one, and provides much pleasure."―Nth Position

"Well-written, engaging, insightful. . . . Ludwig's book makes a bona fide contribution to the study of leadership."―Rhetoric and Public Affairs

"An arresting book that casts political science out the window and explains leadership through comparisons with chimpanzees, baboons, and gorillas."―Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky (May 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813190681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813190686
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #813,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Lycians on March 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I found it curious that not one of the previous reviewers mention Ataturk in their reviews, not one, yet; Ataturk came out first in Ludwig's "Political Greatness Scale." How could all these reviewers simply ignore this? I also found his comments about the lack of women leaders at the highest level quite amazing.

In an on air interview with the author, Brian Lamb the host, interviews Arnold Ludwig:

Ludwig comments that "as I got into my work more and more, a number of questions began emerging that I could not answer, that puzzled me. For example, why was it that there were so few women rulers in the 20th century?"

He goes on to say "There were a total of 27 out of 1,941, which the percentage was 1.4 percent. And of those, half of them -- at least half -- were either wives of some famous politician, they'd borrowed their husbands' charisma, or daughters of him. And so that left -- if you look at just women who have made it on their own, that was about .75 percent. So the chances of a woman becoming a ruler in the 20th century were less than 100-to-1 odds, over 100-to-1 odds against it."

Mr Lamb then asks Ludwig about his "Political Greatness Scale" and says "the number one leader you found in the 20th century, from your political greatness scale, was Ataturk." and goes on to ask "But why Ataturk?" and Ludwig answers: "Let's look at what Ataturk did. And again, mind you, take this in the context of some of the other great leaders that -- some of the immortals I've mentioned. Ataturk created -- started Turkey. He dismantled the Ottoman empire, which was in existence at the time. He not only was the founder of the country, creating a country, but he caused a profound social change in Turkey.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Larry Arnhart on January 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It is surprising that the proponents of evolutionary psychology have not paid more attention to this book. Ludwig argues that the human desire to be the supreme political ruler is rooted in the same biological nature that supports the dominance of alpha males among monkeys and apes. He supports this argument with analysis of the 1,941 chief executive rulers of the independent countries in the 20th century. He illustrates his points with lively anecdotes from the lives of the 377 rulers for whom he had sufficient biographical information.
Of the many interesting points that he makes, one is that he can explain one of the universal traits of human politics--that the highest positions of political rule tend to be filled predominantly by men. Political scientists rarely acknowledge--much less explain--this remarkable pattern of male dominance. Ludwig explains it as a manifestation of male primate tendencies rooted in the neurophysiology of the male as shaped by natural selection in evolutionary history. (Surprisingly, Ludwig does not mention Steven Goldberg's book WHY MEN RULE, which makes a similar argument.)
There is one bright spot in Ludwig's otherwise dark vision of politics dominated by Machiavellian brutality--he shows that democratic leaders in established democracies act with more restraint than those in other kinds of regimes. He doesn't explain this.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Music Fan on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Despite its hard science dressings, this book is primarily a popular (versus academic) account of modern political leadership. Although Dr. Ludwig is obviously knowledgable about psychology, the scientific discourse in this book is kept to a minimum. Mostly, the book consists of a series of highly entertaining anecdotes about famous political figures, collected to support his thesis that political greatness equates possesing the characteristics of the "Alpha Male". The acceptability of this amoralistic conception of "greatness" - where Mao and FDR are co-ranked the greatest modern political leaders with Stalin a close second - is up to each reader to decide.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I loved reading this book as much as I enjoyed the funny picture on the cover. The thesis that most if not all leaders of people are similar to primate alpha males in the sense that they have more concubines and children, not necessarily more intelligence or ability but more macho desire to rule over others for the sake of ruling (whether known or not by the agent), and that much in the politics of primates and that of humans is remarkably similar is fun to examine and read about. My only desire was that after ten years of studying and researching for this book, maybe the University of Kentucky emeritus psychiatry professor could have focused even more on the roots of the nature of political leaders, both in the primate and strikingly similar human realms. I expected much from this book and did not get as much as I would have hoped, but it was still an excellent read thanks to the depth of research it contains. All national leaders from the 20th century collated and examined as a whole in comparison with primates: maybe there is ample reason to be disappointed in a 400 page book trying to take on so much. Nonetheless, the accounts of the idiosyncracies of certain leaders, the primate-like actions of many, the sloth and greed of others, and other remarkable accounts make this a fabulous book for almost any reader interested in the imperfections of people, especially the most visable people: leaders.
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