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.
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, 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 ChavezCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved