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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 that the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders- realism, empa 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 that 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 analysis of the historical evidence with the latest psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how he thinks these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.individuals and society at large-however high the price for those who endure these illnesses.


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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 that the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders- realism, empa 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 that 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 analysis of the historical evidence with the latest psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how he thinks these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.individuals and society at large-however high the price for those who endure these illnesses.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Who writes history? Those who control the media and the winners of any conflict. This is a summary of some of history's greatest and worst leaders. It reads much like a dissertation only without statistical data to support the hypothesis but plenty of anecdotal which is soft data. The author asserts that the best leaders in war and other stress, were on the bipolar spectrum. The worst leaders under stress were mentally stable. Many of the examples used are self-proclaimed sufferers of depression Who writes history? Those who control the media and the winners of any conflict. This is a summary of some of history's greatest and worst leaders. It reads much like a dissertation only without statistical data to support the hypothesis but plenty of anecdotal which is soft data. The author asserts that the best leaders in war and other stress, were on the bipolar spectrum. The worst leaders under stress were mentally stable. Many of the examples used are self-proclaimed sufferers of depression or other mood disorder. Others suffered from a physical malady which, when treated medically, led to an unstable mood. Or a sexually transmitted disease which produced an atypical mood. At any rate, the author suggests that a depressed person is more likely to exhibit realism, a manic person has enhanced creativity and a depressed person feels more empathy. I agree to some degree that this is true, only I wouldn't put these people directly on the mental illness scale. An awake person expresses greater creativity while a depressed poet produces depressing poetry which is not in a manic stage. A person who has experienced life, not necessarily depression, might already know they don't control the world but how they react to circumstances. A few months ago I read "The Psychopath Test" which empowered those trained in this checklist to diagnose a psychopath. In short order, the checklist qualified most of the population as exhibiting psychopathic personalities. As a graduate student in psychology, I read my new DSM III-R and diagnosed myself with no less than 58 psychological disorders. Once informed of the uses of the DSM and realizing it is only the extremes that interfere with regular interactions and work, my list dropped to only two. One when I wasn't PMS-ing. It is much easier to find episodic personality traits and pigeon-hole a historical leader into a mental illness, especially if that person is dead and unable to refute the diagnosis. It is also known that psychiatry and psychology is a soft science. Not that I don't respect the field because I do. On the other hand, the new diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder or the Autism Spectrum. Now all the quirky kids who have a less than ideal awareness of social appropriate behavior can be shoved onto this broad spectrum and receive a 504 plan excusing angry outbursts at school rather than accepting consequences for acting out and hurting other children. Ten years ago, these same children were being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and treatment reflected that diagnosis. The author's hypothesis is an interesting one but left me feeling like the hypothesis was not settled. My belief is that mood disorders or mental instability is not a good predictor of leadership skills. I didn't see the connection as the author presented the information. I wanted to be convinced with hard evidence but instead, I was underwhelmed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    Nassir Ghaemi describes a strong correlation between mental or mood disorders, and leadership. Many of the world's best leaders in times of crisis had mental disorders--not very severe, but sufficiently ill so that they handled challenges with more realistic outlooks than so-called "normal" people. However, they do not do well during normal times. They do not make good managers. On the other hand, "normal" people--which he calls "homoclites", can be good leaders during normal times. But they oft Nassir Ghaemi describes a strong correlation between mental or mood disorders, and leadership. Many of the world's best leaders in times of crisis had mental disorders--not very severe, but sufficiently ill so that they handled challenges with more realistic outlooks than so-called "normal" people. However, they do not do well during normal times. They do not make good managers. On the other hand, "normal" people--which he calls "homoclites", can be good leaders during normal times. But they often do poorly when faced with extraordinary challenges. Ghaemi's evidence for his hypothesis is largely anecdotal. He describes the lives of some of the world's great leaders during times of crisis; Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, General Sherman, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Roosevelt, and Gandhi. He showed how adversity due to mental illness often prepared them for challenges later in life. Churchill was an active politician during the early twentieth century, but became a political "has-been" during the 1930's. However, he foresaw the Nazi threat before any of the so-called "normal" politicians like Chamberlain. Ghaemi attributes Churchill's insight to the challenges he faced with manic depression. Ghaemi contasts General Techumseh Sherman, who took big risks during the American Civil War, with the more staid General George McClellan. Sherman suffered from hallucinations, was suicidal and depressed. John F. Kennedy suffered from a number of physical and mental problems. Franklin Roosevelt was challenged by the adversity of polio. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi had depression, and contemplated suicide. Nevertheless, all of these leaders took risks, were courageous, and were great leaders. Ghaemi contends, however, that during normal times, these leaders were ineffective. On the other hand, leaders like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Neville Chamberlain were ineffective leaders during times of crisis, as they were mentally "normal", and were simply not prepared for times of adversity. The book also discusses Hitler and other Nazi leaders during the World War II. Ghaemi discusses how Hitler had mental problems that were exacerbated by bad medical treatments. Ghaemi argues that Hitler's example also is evidence in favor of his hypothesis--but I am not convinced, and he turns around and shows how many (but not all) of the Nazi leaders were "normal" from a psychiatric point of view. This is definitely a thought-provoking book. While I found it difficult to believe that Ghaemi's hypothesis is generally applicable to all leaders, he shows enough evidence to prove that the effect is not mere correlation--there is probably some causation in effect, too. Anybody interested in psychology and history would find a lot of compelling insights in this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stefanie

    This book would have gotten three or four stars had its theme been slightly different. The author posits on p. 17, "The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy." Had the book stuck to the specific cases, that is, something closer to "Here are some amazing leaders who had mental illness, and I would argue that their illnesses helped inform and shape their successful leadership," I could have backed that thesis 100%. I can't h This book would have gotten three or four stars had its theme been slightly different. The author posits on p. 17, "The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy." Had the book stuck to the specific cases, that is, something closer to "Here are some amazing leaders who had mental illness, and I would argue that their illnesses helped inform and shape their successful leadership," I could have backed that thesis 100%. I can't help but wonder about which historical leaders were potentially not successful because of mental illness, or maybe they didn't have the opportunity to shine because they didn't have the right crisis to lead through. President Franklin Pierce comes to mind, who is said to have suffered from depression, as an example. He had pre-Civil War issues to deal with, among other problems, but has been ranked one of the least effective presidents by historians. Was this a matter of the wrong crisis? Not enough coping skills? On page 223, the dismissal of the leadership contributions of Truman and Eiserhower took my breath away: "I would say that they were homoclites [people of normal mental health], but that their presidential successes did not include handling major crises, like World War II (almost over when Truman took office). . . or the civil rights crisis (Eisenhower briefly intervened in Little Rock, and otherwise avoided conflict)." First, Truman took a very Shermanesque approach to war, dropping two bombs that killed well over 100,000 people, many of them civilians, in order to stop the conflict and preserve the lives of hundreds of thousands more. No nod to that, given that Sherman was an inspriation for this project? How is Truman's decision not bold and forward thinking? Wasn't that decisive action in a crisis situation? And perhaps Eisenhower's presidential leadership wasn't challenged in a way that allowed him to stand out, but what about his performance during World War II in Africa and Europe? As Supreme Commander in both places, surely he had plenty of crises that he handled, and handled well, given the outcome of the conflict? That was the point at which the author lost me as a reader, because I didn't trust him to be looking at the material objectively. It's not a coindidence, I suspect, that I found the sections on mentally healthy leaders to be the weakest parts of the book. Also, there was some carelessness in language; for example, "A depressive person sleeps less, and the nighttime becomes a dreaded chore that one can never achieve properly" (p. 17). A final question: Assuming leaders with mental illness are indeed the best kind to have during a crisis, what then? Should voters be trying to elect depressive or hyperthymic leaders? How do we determine this when such information is usually hidden from the public? How do voters anticipate the crises that might necessitate different types of leadership? I had high hopes for this book, and I do admire the author for his ambition, but a slightly different approach would have made it better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    Is President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines mentally ill? If he is, then he could either be the worst type of leader or the best one for the country, depending on where the Philippines is now. For the theme of this book is summed up this way: “The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.” Elucidating, the author wrote: “In times of peace, mental health is useful. One meets the expectations of one’s community, and one is rew Is President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines mentally ill? If he is, then he could either be the worst type of leader or the best one for the country, depending on where the Philippines is now. For the theme of this book is summed up this way: “The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.” Elucidating, the author wrote: “In times of peace, mental health is useful. One meets the expectations of one’s community, and one is rewarded for doing so. In times of war or crisis, it is the misfits who fill the bill. (German psychiatrist Ernst) Kretschmer noticed this pattern and explained it using the metaphor of bacteria, which replicate and survive only in times of crisis. ‘The brilliant enthusiast, the radical fanatic and the prophet are always there, just as the tricksters and criminals are—the air is full of them,’ but they flourish only during crisis. In peacetime, they are our patients, he famously wrote; we rule them. In crisis periods, they rule us. “Great crisis leaders are not like the rest of us; nor are they like mentally healthy leaders. They’re often intelligent, prone to poor physical health, the products of privileged backgrounds, raised by parents in conflict, frequently nonreligious, and ambitious. All these personality traits and experiences are also associated with mental illness, like mania and depression, or with abnormal temperaments, like hyperthymia. Much of what passes for normal is not found in highly successful political and military leader, especially in times of crisis. If normal, mentally healthy people…run for president, they tend not to become great ones.” Mentally ill people are creative. Geniuses are often have the touch of madness in them. One example given was the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman (after whom the Sherman Tank was named). Before him, there was the problem of having too much casualties in the usual head-to-head combats between opposing armies. But he thought of a way to defeat the enemy without necessarily confronting it in battle, i.e., by utterly destroying the cities upon which the enemy gets its support. The problem of having so much military casualty was therefore solved with this cruel novelty but it spawned a new one: civilian casualties and suffering. In the same way, one would notice President’s novel approach in his war on drugs: extrajudicial killings. The obvious aim is not just physically stop (by killing) those involved in drugs, but to instill so much fear among them that, hopefully, the fear would be enough to persuade them to change. It remains to be seen if it is, or will be, successful yet one can readily see the new problem it has created: the culture of death and impunity where one no longer knows who is killing whom and for what reason. Wrote the author: “These leaders were creative, manic originators: they answered questions nobody had yet asked, but in so doing they produced other questions nobody can yet answer.” Other leaders who were considered mentally ill were (among others) Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, his father Joseph Kennedy Sr., Winston Churchill (contrasted with his “sane” contemporary Neville Chamberlain), and Ted Turner. In times of crisis, they magnificently excelled; but in times of peace they were duds. They’ve all exhibited many of the features of hyperthymia: high energy, elevated libido, workaholism, sense of humour, risk-taking, extraversion, sociability and marked ambition. Noticeably, President Duterte had all these. But is he good for the country? The book answers it this way: if the country is in a real crisis, YES; if the country is not in a real crisis, HELL, NO.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cari

    The Good A First-Rate Madness has a fascinating premise: that in times of crisis, mentally abnormal leaders are more effective than mentally healthy ones. For various reasons, many of which are included in this book, I actually tend to agree with the author, and even if I didn't, his theory would be intriguing food for thought. Additionally, Ghaemi writes well and is consistently engaging, keeping his work from becoming dry as one reads. The Bad I have extreme reservations about the evidence Ghaemi The Good A First-Rate Madness has a fascinating premise: that in times of crisis, mentally abnormal leaders are more effective than mentally healthy ones. For various reasons, many of which are included in this book, I actually tend to agree with the author, and even if I didn't, his theory would be intriguing food for thought. Additionally, Ghaemi writes well and is consistently engaging, keeping his work from becoming dry as one reads. The Bad I have extreme reservations about the evidence Ghaemi gives to support his claims. There's a lot of cherry picking, both of subjects and of symptoms. Clearly no book can cover every major world leader, but he's chosen to highlight only a very few when simply shortening the sections on each would've made room for a larger, more varied sample size. Additionally, any studies that don't agree with the theme are brushed aside, and the symptoms he focuses on in the case of each leader are clearly cherry-picked from often limited available information. One suspected incident of depression does not a depressive or bipolar make; half-hearted juvenile attempts at suicide do not denote a suicidal or depressed adult. Beyond even that, there's a lot of assumptions made and only the flimsiest of contexts given, which makes me wary of putting much stock in the "examples" on which Ghaemi basis his ideas. I think the idea is good and deserves major study, and I would love to read the result of one. Unfortunately, this isn't it. The "What the Hell?" Moment So I was nearing the end of the book and all was going pretty well, I was disappointed but still intrigued, and while I hadn't yet settled on my rating (since I hadn't yet finished reading), I figured things would hold steady until the end. And then I reached the top of page 257 and, as Ghaemi is discussing the negative stigma attached to mental illness, he writes this: "This stigma is the basis, I think, for most of the intuitively negative reactions that readers may have to this book's theme." Passive aggressive attempt to foist any failures of the book onto the reader? Sorta seems that way. It's not the theme that gets a negative reaction, sir, but the sparse study and supporting information. Perhaps he meant it innocently (I'm sure many will agree that he did), but for me it shows a distinct lack of faith, either in his work or his readership, neither one of which is forgivable. So really, Nassir Ghaemi, what the hell? The Summary An excellent theory, intriguing and deserving of further work, but the book itself fails to deliver on its premise and makes the factual, scientific side of me squirm uneasily. Take it or leave it, the book doesn't make much of a difference either way.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cleokatra

    I’m not sure what to make of this one. If I had some money, I think I would buy a few copies and pay some people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness to read this book. I’d really like to know what people with first-hand experience think of this. If you have a mental illness, could you, like, go to the library and then get back to me? Maybe? Anyway, the basic premise of the book is that people with mental illness are better leaders in times of crisis and mentally healthy people are bett I’m not sure what to make of this one. If I had some money, I think I would buy a few copies and pay some people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness to read this book. I’d really like to know what people with first-hand experience think of this. If you have a mental illness, could you, like, go to the library and then get back to me? Maybe? Anyway, the basic premise of the book is that people with mental illness are better leaders in times of crisis and mentally healthy people are better leaders when things are boring. The author suggests that people with depression and bipolar disorder are more resilient and mentally flexible because they have experience overcoming difficulties. I guess this is the part that I am questioning. If you are living with depression (and I mean “depression” as in the actual disease, not just a case of the blues) is this because something bad happened to you or is it an issue of brain chemistry or is it both? In my own case, I think my episodes of depression were caused by a combination of bad stuff happening, plus my basic nature as a somewhat gloomy person. It seems to me that a person with better brain chemistry (or whatever) would have reacted to those events in a different way that did not involve being depressed. As a scientist, I am always aware that correlation is not causation. Another thing I am aware of is that psychology is a “soft” science. I think both those factors are at play here. I think the author found a hypothesis and then cherry picked some observations to support it. That’s easier to do with this sort of science than it is in a field like physics. In this case, I think the actual causation is not mental illness but introversion and a tendency toward self-examination and reflection. People who think a lot are better at dealing with complex situations because they are used to thinking. They don’t just react emotionally from their “gut”, like an animal. That isn’t the same as a mental illness, though I do think that some people with mental illness may spend more time thinking about their feelings and emotional state. If you don’t feel good, there is more to think about. You think more about breathing when you have a head cold than when you are healthy, right?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    This book provides an interesting analysis of world leaders & how their mental health influenced their leadership. The author's analysis of such world figures as Lincoln, General Sherman, Hitler, FDR, Nixon, JFK and many others and how they reacted during crisis and non crisis situations depending on his interpretation of their mental health is fascinating. His conclusion is that leaders with certain types of mental illness (bipolar) handle crisis situations better than non mentally ill (normal) This book provides an interesting analysis of world leaders & how their mental health influenced their leadership. The author's analysis of such world figures as Lincoln, General Sherman, Hitler, FDR, Nixon, JFK and many others and how they reacted during crisis and non crisis situations depending on his interpretation of their mental health is fascinating. His conclusion is that leaders with certain types of mental illness (bipolar) handle crisis situations better than non mentally ill (normal) personalities. My sister, a psychologist, disagrees with much of his research & findings, but I found his background info on each of the figures enlightening.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marya

    "And, isn't sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but when you're good and crazy, oooh, oooh, oooh, the sky is the limit." - The Tick From his eminent philosophical standing, the Tick nicely summarizes pretty much the only point in this work's introduction I could accept. The author's thesis, that mentally ill leaders are preferable in times of crisis while sane leaders are better at steering a straight course during non-crisis times, seem "And, isn't sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but when you're good and crazy, oooh, oooh, oooh, the sky is the limit." - The Tick From his eminent philosophical standing, the Tick nicely summarizes pretty much the only point in this work's introduction I could accept. The author's thesis, that mentally ill leaders are preferable in times of crisis while sane leaders are better at steering a straight course during non-crisis times, seems over-reaching, especially as he only chooses famous (mostly) dead international leaders to support his thesis. The book is set up more like a historical analysis, and even the author admits psychologists, like historians, often only have modest data upon which to base their conclusions. If you want a more thorough understanding of the book's psychology points, go ahead and read Nancy's review; it does the book more justice than I ever could. Perhaps reading this text as a historical work rather than a work examining the qualities of leadership would be more rewarding.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    We need Richard Nixon to be sick, because we believe we are healthy. If mental health means being a homoclite, then mental health has a considerable drawback: conformity. The premise of this book is that the best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy. The weakness of mentally abnormal leaders are the source of their strength during political crises. Ghaemi claims that sanity "does not always, or even usually, produce good leader We need Richard Nixon to be sick, because we believe we are healthy. If mental health means being a homoclite, then mental health has a considerable drawback: conformity. The premise of this book is that the best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy. The weakness of mentally abnormal leaders are the source of their strength during political crises. Ghaemi claims that sanity "does not always, or even usually, produce good leadership" and that sometimes, it even hinders it. It can prevent a realistic assessment of a situation and prevent rational decision making in times of a crisis. Four key elements of the mental illnesses of mania and depression, realism, resilience, empathy, and creativity, seem to promote leadership during crisis. Ghaemi's premise is that these four elements haven't been recognized by historians and they've shaped the twentieth century more than any other factor. We like our presidents moderate and middle-of-the-road- psychologically even more than politically. Ghaemi puts a spotlight on a variety of twentieth century world leaders (Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK etc.) and compares the ones who were considered to be mentally abnormal to "normal" and he compares and contrasts their actions and the state of their mental health in times of crises. I found this to be utterly fascinating and found myself how he would characterize many of today's world leaders. Beyond spotlighting the less harmless leaders, he also focused on leaders that have been written off as crazy before due to their actions and he examines whether they really were crazy. Germany and its Nazi leaders were not much different, psychologically, from any nation or any leaders. And that's the scary part. This was a fantastic book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    The psych student in me was extremely excited to open this delectable treat... and it certainly didn't disappoint as by page 2 I get: "in times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones". If you aren't intrigued by that then I think there's an RL Stine or Twilight book out there that might be right up yer alley... On to the next one...now after studying psych here's what I can tell you: Ghaemi is brilliant for those who don't know in-depth psych - The psych student in me was extremely excited to open this delectable treat... and it certainly didn't disappoint as by page 2 I get: "in times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones". If you aren't intrigued by that then I think there's an RL Stine or Twilight book out there that might be right up yer alley... On to the next one...now after studying psych here's what I can tell you: Ghaemi is brilliant for those who don't know in-depth psych - the correlations of varying mental illnesses are short & sweet. In turn he's killer for those of us that have and are dying for more! I may be lurking in a class or two of yours soon Dr. Ghaemi! I mean that in a strictly non-stalkerish way of course. In short, I think this book is unbelievably fascinating. For a myriad of reasons. It puts a whole unseen light of what mental illness has done to BETTER society. Which in turn just sparks more dialogue and hopefully more understanding of those who suffer from it. Hell for those of us that do its a beacon. For understanding that what "afflicts" us isn't completely a curse but in such a larger social context a blessing...within reason of course. Bc what may be for the best of society is hell within one mans home. A fine line of "genius" is walked, but understood so much more. Some phenomenal quotes follow within this book as well such as: "Our leaders cannot be perfect; they need not be perfect; their imperfections indeed may produce greatness. We make a mistake, however instinctive, when we choose leaders like us." In every possible way, there has never been a more incredible and concise argument for why "mental illness" has advanced (and in especially bad environments mixed with the wrong medication, de-evolved) mankind. There need not be a shun on such things IF acknowledged and treated in the right way. It is why in fact, mankind has thrived at points and failed in others. Mind BLOWN. (Well not really but finally stoked to see someone put in words what society has worked so hard to reject). I am absolutely sneaking into some of Dr. Ghaemi's lectures if I don't just drop my career and Pursue a phd already. Boom.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karishma

    I'm a little disappointed because I expected to like this book a lot more than I actually did. I was quite intrigued by the book initially - Ghaemi's thesis being that mental illness lends certain qualities to its sufferers which aid them in becoming more resilient, more realistic, creative and empathetic individuals and thus, more excellent leaders in times of crisis. So far, so good. However, this cannot be generalised to every leader and the reverse idea that mental health corresponds with po I'm a little disappointed because I expected to like this book a lot more than I actually did. I was quite intrigued by the book initially - Ghaemi's thesis being that mental illness lends certain qualities to its sufferers which aid them in becoming more resilient, more realistic, creative and empathetic individuals and thus, more excellent leaders in times of crisis. So far, so good. However, this cannot be generalised to every leader and the reverse idea that mental health corresponds with poor and mediocre crisis leadership seems a judgmental call to make. I was not really satisfied with the justification he gave for calling 'homoclite' so called middle-of-the-road leaders' failures in leadership positions in war time. I think the book is at its best when he sensitively speaks of the need for acknowledging the strengths and abilities of those with mental illness, or atleast, those with mood disorders. As a student of psychiatry myself, I find it hard to take a call on whether an illness such as psychosis with its known profiles of cognitive impairments that are part of the illness process will not in the long term impair judgment or in fact, if such stress as is notably associated with leadership positions won't worsen the illness itself. There are no easy answers and the call to end stigma against mental illness in our society is timely. However, the idea remains that perhaps there is that in individuals other than a first-rate madness that makes them first-rate leaders and if it takes more than just depression to teach someone empathy and kindness.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    Let's begin... I never took a psych class in college, and I am essentially self-taught in history, but I could tell almost immediately that I was going to agree with virtually nothing Ghaemi said. First, his definition of madness is purely limited to mania and depression, which I find insulting to anyone who finds themselves on the bipolar spectrum. It is also very clear that Ghaemi found very specific leaders to analyze and then picked out certain characteristics to fit into his thesis. For exa Let's begin... I never took a psych class in college, and I am essentially self-taught in history, but I could tell almost immediately that I was going to agree with virtually nothing Ghaemi said. First, his definition of madness is purely limited to mania and depression, which I find insulting to anyone who finds themselves on the bipolar spectrum. It is also very clear that Ghaemi found very specific leaders to analyze and then picked out certain characteristics to fit into his thesis. For example, Ghaemi writes about Martin Luther King's suicide attempt as if this is breaking news and that he and he alone was able to uncover MLK's secret pain, and this was the source of his depression, and thus his success. On this history side of the book, Ghaemi often applied hyperbole in order to make a literary or psychological thread connect. Continuing with MLK, what may have been my single biggest historical issue with the book was when he equated slavery with segregation (76). We can all agree that segregation was an evil practice and, of course, related to slavery through the ingrained racism in the South, but come on! Do you have to make me say it? Slavery is not the same as segregation. This book is filled with contradictions, tenuous connections, and weak arguments. I do not understand how this book was even published given how ridiculous it is at times. And, as a final note, there are no women mentioned in this book. That may just be enough of an oversight to be unforgivable in and of itself. Just awful.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I found this book not only fascinating but a compelling idea. The author contends that the best leaders during times of crisis are those with a mental illness. He suggests this is the case for only certain illnesses which are severe depression, mania, bipolar disorder, and hyperthymia . His idea is that depression makes one a realist and empathetic while mania makes on creative and resilient. He gives numerous examples including General Sherman, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, MLK, FDR, JFK I found this book not only fascinating but a compelling idea. The author contends that the best leaders during times of crisis are those with a mental illness. He suggests this is the case for only certain illnesses which are severe depression, mania, bipolar disorder, and hyperthymia . His idea is that depression makes one a realist and empathetic while mania makes on creative and resilient. He gives numerous examples including General Sherman, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, MLK, FDR, JFK and even Hitler. He then discusses leaders who are "normal" that have not done well in times of crisis. These include General McClellan (vs. Sherman), Neville Chamberlain (vs. Churchill), Richard Nixon, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    Was not impressed with this book's argument that mental illness correlates with great leadership in times of crisis. People who struggle with mental illness absolutely can make great leaders but this thesis was structured quite poorly and buttressed by examples that were almost all white straight male military leaders (and chapters about Gandhi and Dr. King were frustratingly shallow). Was not impressed with this book's argument that mental illness correlates with great leadership in times of crisis. People who struggle with mental illness absolutely can make great leaders but this thesis was structured quite poorly and buttressed by examples that were almost all white straight male military leaders (and chapters about Gandhi and Dr. King were frustratingly shallow).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anna Juline

    I read this book for my psych discussion group, and we disagreed with so many of his claims. He didn't have very much evidence for some of the people he analyzed, and some of his diagnoses seemed like major reaches. There were some strong chapters, but he could have done without probably half of the book. One statement that really bothered me was about how all of Germany was guilty for the Holocaust. I think that isn't a claim anyone can make...either you blame the Nazi party and Hitler, or all I read this book for my psych discussion group, and we disagreed with so many of his claims. He didn't have very much evidence for some of the people he analyzed, and some of his diagnoses seemed like major reaches. There were some strong chapters, but he could have done without probably half of the book. One statement that really bothered me was about how all of Germany was guilty for the Holocaust. I think that isn't a claim anyone can make...either you blame the Nazi party and Hitler, or all of humanity for letting it happen. However, I didn't hate the book completely...he did have some good ideas that could have been improved upon.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ben Dubielak

    I found this thoroughly engaging and a fairly detailed examination of historical leaders and the mental illnesses they dealt with. Though I'm not sure I agree with his thesis fully, (namely "In times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones"), he provides enough strong circumstantial evidence to make a compelling case. I found this thoroughly engaging and a fairly detailed examination of historical leaders and the mental illnesses they dealt with. Though I'm not sure I agree with his thesis fully, (namely "In times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones"), he provides enough strong circumstantial evidence to make a compelling case.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

       Our leaders cannot be perfect; they need not be perfect; their imperfections indeed may produce their greatness. The indelible smudges on their character may be signs of brilliant leadership.    We make a mistake, however, when we choose leaders like us. This is our own arrogance, as normal homoclitic people. We overvalue ourselves; we think, being normal, that we are wonderful. We stigmatize those who differ from us, whether because of race, sex, habits, culture, religion—or, perhaps more vis    Our leaders cannot be perfect; they need not be perfect; their imperfections indeed may produce their greatness. The indelible smudges on their character may be signs of brilliant leadership.    We make a mistake, however, when we choose leaders like us. This is our own arrogance, as normal homoclitic people. We overvalue ourselves; we think, being normal, that we are wonderful. We stigmatize those who differ from us, whether because of race, sex, habits, culture, religion—or, perhaps more viscerally, because of mental illness or abnormal behaviors. – 70.4%/Chapter 15    Dr. Ghaemi offers an insightful, compelling analysis of numerous historical leaders and possible psychological factors contributing to their greatness… or their failures. He mostly focuses on depression and manic-depressive disorder, but also pays attention to the personality types of dysthymia, hyperthymia, and cyclothymia (with hyperthymia being the most evident in his case examples). It is worth noting his methodological approach to laying out his chapters, and that he actually found more evidence to support conclusions which ran contrary to what he expected to find – thus showing that while he had a pre-supposed notion of what he would find, that he took the time and kept his mind open to discover other possible explanations.    While reading the presentations of each historical personage, I did feel like there was something almost too casual with the way Dr. Ghaemi presented the information – it was not quite as scientific as I had expected, excepting when he threw in new terms swiftly followed by their definition/explanation. Though this did mean that it makes for a very accessible read, and not dumbed-down for the non-scientifically-oriented masses. It’s almost light enough to make for an upper-level beach read, but not so light that the reader does not take what he has to say seriously. As this was written during Obama’s first term in the presidency, it does show some dating with comparisons based on new information which has since come to light and the latest developments in US politics/US political leaders. It would be interesting to take his methodology and apply it to more current politicians; I am curious about what a psychological evaluation would mean on at least one high-office holder at this time. But even Dr. Ghaemi recognizes that historical distance assists in making a more accurate, less biased analysis of the person in question, and that analyzing someone too contemporary/still living/still in office would be bound to get too controversial and colored by personal thoughts and opinions.    The length of the bibliography and the notes section also lend credence to Dr. Ghaemi’s analysis and conclusions, as he has clearly done a lot of research and spent much time reading various historical documents in order to glean any information possible that might better frame each historical leader in their political, emotional, and intellectual contexts.    All in all, this made for a very interesting read, a different way to look at some historical leaders, both successful ones, failed ones, and off-the-deep-end ones. I make a few additional insights in my status updates for those of you interested. Notable quotes/selected commentary    For Roosevelt, reporters were potential friends to be won, rather than enemies to be avoided. – 36.6%/Chapter 10 – I think someone could use this as a new MO…might help him “discourage” the “fake media” by actually trying to connect with them instead of shutting them down.    In August 1973 […] One psychiatrist was quoted in Time magazine as saying that Nixon’s behavior was consistent with schizophrenia. No president before or since has ever received such unwanted psychoanalytic attention. – 59.7%/Chapter 14 – That might soon be surpassed, if anyone still takes the psychoanalytic approach these days…     [Murray Chotiner’s political working precepts were:] People don’t vote for someone; they vote against someone. Chotiner’s second rule was that voters possessed the mental capacity for grasping just two or three issues at one sitting. – 61.2%/Chapter 14 – I’d say we’ve definitely seen this recently.     […] despite JFK’s concerns that Nixon would assail him for “girling,” Chotiner’s pupil focused on political, not personal, attacks. – 61.3%/Chapter 14 – Not at all like the 2016 US elections, where personal attacks were rather the norm…    As discussed in chapter 1, one sign of creativity is “integrative complexity,” the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. – 63.7%/Chapter 14 (emphasis added)    Most people have a hard time admitting error, apologizing, changing our minds. It takes more than a typical amount of self-awareness to realize that one is wrong and to admit it. – 64.1%/Chapter 14 (emphasis added)    Of course Lincoln and Churchill hid their severe depressions from their respective electorates. But will we, as a society, ever evolve to the point where we can seek out our Lincolns and Churchills instead of getting them despite ourselves? – 69.5%/Chapter 15 – Time will tell which we’ve got this time around…    Can we applaud passion, embrace anxiety, accept irritability, even prefer depression? When we have such presidents—the charismatic emotional ones, like Bill Clinton—we might have to accept some vices as the price of their psychological talents. – 69.7%/Chapter 15 – As long as they work for the benefit of the country, that is… Two longer excerpts under the cut, where I also come off a little strong because it’s late, I’m tired, and my personal filter isn’t 100% properly adjusted at the moment:    (view spoiler)[Soon [Hitler] began to abuse those [amphetamine] treatments by receiving daily intravenous injections—a practice that continued everyday throughout the Second World War, worsening his bipolar disorder, with more and more severe manic and depressive episodes, while he literally destroyed the world.    The great physician William Osler once said that all medicines are toxic; it is how they’re used that makes them therapeutic. If used in the wrong setting, in the wrong amounts, they always cause harm; they are dangerous; they kill and maim. The art of medicine is about knowing how and when to used medicines—and when not to use them. When doctors give drugs to people with underlying psychiatric illnesses, the potential for harm is exponentially higher. And if such people are political leaders, especially with despotic power, that danger can extend to entire nations, even races.—45.5%, Chapter 12 – Important information to remember, especially with the resurgence of “natural”/non-medicinal approaches to healing with little to no scientific support to back up their claims. I don’t have anything against natural remedies, I think they’re a good thing, but only if they are actually effective and do the job at least as well as modern medicine.     (Given the unfathomably evil Nazi experience, I appreciate that this analysis is delicate. Many who went through the Holocaust still live, as well as many more whose parents or grandparents suffered or perished as a result of it. The memory of those who perished is justifiably cherished, and the subsequent sensitivity of those who remain is understandable. Rather than avoid this topic, however, I think this historical experience is a central modern trauma with which my theme must grapple. I only ask that what I write here be read in the spirit intended, that of seeking the truth, whatever it is, and without any intended moral or political inferences in favor of or against anyone.) -- 50.4%/Chapter 13 – I appreciate that he took the time to say this disclaimer – it could be seen as trying to be too politically correct, but on the other hand, it segues nicely into his final request sentence in the quote (which… it’s kind of too bad he felt a need to request this level of open-mindedness, I would hope that people who chose to read this book were already coming it with a level of open-mindedness…). (hide spoiler)] Typos: “[…] Every since I was little….” – 11.7%/Chapter 2 – should be “ever” …while we delight to listen to him in this House we not take his advice… 18.3%/Chapter 4 – should be “we do not take” …have suffered the same illness. IF GANDHI INDEED suffered… -- 25.4%/Chapter 7 – missing an extra line break in between paragraphs …those who are immu-nocompromised… -- 44.4%, chapter 11 – should be “immuno-compromised” Your excellency Major Kelly! – 67%/Chapter 14 – Possibly a typo, unless the error was in the original letter, as it is “Kelley” everywhere else. …in latenineteenth-century Italy… -- 68.7%/Chapter 15 – missing a space after “late” (accessed Apirl 4, 2011) – 75.6%/Notes – misspelling, should be April …three highestrating presidents… -- 89.8%/Notes – missing a space after “highest” …ideology (leftwing versus right-wing)… -- 90.1%/Notes – missing a dash – “left-wing”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erwin

    Excellent book. Profiles Lincoln, General Sherman, Hitler, Gandhi, Churchill. MLK. FDR. JFK and Ted Turner. Original writing. Interesting parallel between this book and How Great Generals Win, which also extensively profiles General Sherman, among other strategists. Dr. Ghaemi focuses on "manic-depression" (or bipolar disorder), and compares this to what we call "normal" personalities, IE, people with a "general feeling of well being". Great leadership benefits from a few qualities that the "mental Excellent book. Profiles Lincoln, General Sherman, Hitler, Gandhi, Churchill. MLK. FDR. JFK and Ted Turner. Original writing. Interesting parallel between this book and How Great Generals Win, which also extensively profiles General Sherman, among other strategists. Dr. Ghaemi focuses on "manic-depression" (or bipolar disorder), and compares this to what we call "normal" personalities, IE, people with a "general feeling of well being". Great leadership benefits from a few qualities that the "mental health" community, and the "general public" would classify as "mental disease". Those qualities include: * Resilience: Able to persevere despite all obstacles. * Depressive Realism: Able to accurately see the complete situation, and their ability to change it. * Creativity/Unconventional: Ability to mystify the enemy, to apply the art of war. On the contrary, the "well-adjusted" person is often not suited to be a good leader, particularly when they have nearly complete power, because self delusion prevents them from seeing "reality". Based on my own life experience, in and around positions of (varying degrees of) power, I would agree with most of what Dr Ghaemi writes. The main thing I would questions, is whether or not we have our definitions backward? How is someone, in fact, most people, who are "consistently wrong", defined as "healthy"? To me, this is as preposterous as US treasuries being defined in economics text books as "risk free treasuries".

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As asocial studies teacher and a mental health professional, this book grabbed me right away. I enjoyed learning about his theory and how some of the characteristics of mental illness can be a benefit to leaders. I also think it does a good job of alleviating some of the stigma associated with mental illness. My respect for leaders was also increased when I learned of their struggles and at the same time how much they led a nation or group of people. That being said, I think it is important to r As asocial studies teacher and a mental health professional, this book grabbed me right away. I enjoyed learning about his theory and how some of the characteristics of mental illness can be a benefit to leaders. I also think it does a good job of alleviating some of the stigma associated with mental illness. My respect for leaders was also increased when I learned of their struggles and at the same time how much they led a nation or group of people. That being said, I think it is important to read it with a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking. Some of his diagnosis were weak and based on little evidence. Sherman and Lincoln had a lot of material to back up a diagnosis but I was not convinced of MLK Jr.'s or Ghandi's diagnosis's. the author stated repeatedly there was little evidence to support the diagnosis but did so anyway with what little evidence he had. I'm not saying he is wrong, merely that he could be. I don't think you can claim a lifetime of depression over an adolescent suicide attempt. Many people attempt suicide and then don't battle depression again. And one of the major critical thinking skills of research analysis is correlation does not equal causation. For many of these leaders we can't guarantee that their mentally illness caused them to be better leaders in times of crisis or whether their illnesses were exacerbated by the crisis they endured. I did enjoy the historical information and do believe the author has a point about how mental illness can have its benefits but every example did not convince me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Windelbo

    This book was fantastic. It made me think about what it means to be a leader and what it means to be mentally ill. While the author's evidence for the mental illness of many of his historical subjects is not always entirely convincing, that doesn't end up being the point. Instead, the point is to recognize that people who have the ability to be visionaries and leaders in crisis are often the ones who are not happy with the current state of things. Those who are 'normal' and happy have no reason This book was fantastic. It made me think about what it means to be a leader and what it means to be mentally ill. While the author's evidence for the mental illness of many of his historical subjects is not always entirely convincing, that doesn't end up being the point. Instead, the point is to recognize that people who have the ability to be visionaries and leaders in crisis are often the ones who are not happy with the current state of things. Those who are 'normal' and happy have no reason to envision anything different. Instead, it is those trapped in a world of mental illness that are best able to create visions of what the world should be and what needs to be done to make it so.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Avis Black

    The author has let his political opinions determine how he makes his psychiatric analysis, which is poor professional judgment. His main idea is that a dose of madness makes a leader better. He does not consider that some leaders are talented despite their illness, not because of it. Nor has he bothered to perform the sort of comprehensive survey that might back up his point. His cherry-picking carefully avoids leaders like Idi Amin, or the Emperor Nero, or Ivan the Terrible, all of whom had Gha The author has let his political opinions determine how he makes his psychiatric analysis, which is poor professional judgment. His main idea is that a dose of madness makes a leader better. He does not consider that some leaders are talented despite their illness, not because of it. Nor has he bothered to perform the sort of comprehensive survey that might back up his point. His cherry-picking carefully avoids leaders like Idi Amin, or the Emperor Nero, or Ivan the Terrible, all of whom had Ghaemi's beloved and requisite mental illnesses.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    An engaging look at how the range of mental health affects leaders in crisis situations, with a thorough examination if existing records. One of the best books that I have read, where the author admits finding results different from his original hypotheses and weaknesses or gaps in his approach. I particularly liked how he addressed living and contemporary leaders and shed light on the cross-cultural biases against mental illness if any degree. *Rounded up from 4.5 stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    Oh my gosh. This is such an amazing book! I have been drinking in every word, sometimes reading his sentences two or three times because I wanted his words to really sink in. He is so brilliant, and makes wonderful observations. Also, I don't really enjoy history as a general rule, but found myself absolutely gripped by this history-laden tome. I don't really know why I picked this book up, but I am so glad I did. Oh my gosh. This is such an amazing book! I have been drinking in every word, sometimes reading his sentences two or three times because I wanted his words to really sink in. He is so brilliant, and makes wonderful observations. Also, I don't really enjoy history as a general rule, but found myself absolutely gripped by this history-laden tome. I don't really know why I picked this book up, but I am so glad I did.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Budd

    A First-Rate Madness was a page turner. The argument that in times of crisis insanity, rather than sanity, produces good results is a worthy starting point for a robust discussion. And he speaks of people that we know and respect: Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lincoln and JFK. http://ontheroadbookclub.com/ A First-Rate Madness was a page turner. The argument that in times of crisis insanity, rather than sanity, produces good results is a worthy starting point for a robust discussion. And he speaks of people that we know and respect: Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lincoln and JFK. http://ontheroadbookclub.com/

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Cristiani

    Solid investigation of the link between mental illness and able leadership through history. I learned a lot about many historical figures I didn't know battled depression. Ghaemi makes as good a case as one could using only historical evidence. Solid conclusions, even if most of it is just guess work...but I tend to agree with his findings. Solid investigation of the link between mental illness and able leadership through history. I learned a lot about many historical figures I didn't know battled depression. Ghaemi makes as good a case as one could using only historical evidence. Solid conclusions, even if most of it is just guess work...but I tend to agree with his findings.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kelly McCloskey-Romero

    I saw this book at a second-hand bookstore and then ended up finding it at the library because it intrigued me. Ghaemi posits that mental illness in leaders can make them better in a crisis. He claims that the empathy, compassion, grit, and perseverance that come from some combination of bipolar disorder, hyperthymic personality, and mental struggle made leaders from Churchill to Gandhi to MLK excellent leaders in chaotic situations. Conversely, mentally healthy people like George W. Bush are me I saw this book at a second-hand bookstore and then ended up finding it at the library because it intrigued me. Ghaemi posits that mental illness in leaders can make them better in a crisis. He claims that the empathy, compassion, grit, and perseverance that come from some combination of bipolar disorder, hyperthymic personality, and mental struggle made leaders from Churchill to Gandhi to MLK excellent leaders in chaotic situations. Conversely, mentally healthy people like George W. Bush are mediocre leaders. I appreciated Ghaemi's portrait of mental illness, finding it clear and straightforward. Though I'm not much of a history buff, I could apply and understand his explanations of various mental illnesses better because of how they played out in JFK or General Sherman's leadership. It really is a fascinating way of looking at people and I found his thesis pretty convincing. It dragged in parts, especially the historic narrative 'then this happened, then he did this, etc.,' but overall it was still interesting. Of course the missing link in reading this book in 2019 is our current American president, certainly mentally ill. Yet his mental illness seems to give him none of the advantages that Ted Turner (kind of out of place in a book about political leaders) and Abraham Lincoln boasted. I wonder what Ghaemi thought of that. Also I wonder how all the ordinary people (he calls them homoclites, and it's most of us) can be spectacular leaders. The implications of his thesis aren't clear. I like the way he destigmatizes mental illness and shows its actual benefits, but I don't want to choose a mentally ill leader on purpose!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    The history was captivating. I could even see myself making some of these diagnoses over sips of tea and conversation with a friend. But, the speculation and storytelling was really extreme. If you can put aside the main point, the mental health diagnoses, this is a very entertaining and satisfying read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    This book is garbage

  29. 4 out of 5

    M. D. Hudson

    Every once in a while I encounter a popular science book that adds a dimension to my understanding of the world, and this was one of these books. But first the book review: the basic argument is that mental illness is a benefit to some leaders under some circumstances, namely, during times of crisis. Churchill, for instance. A normal leader will tend to fail under such circumstances. Chamberlain for instance. Ghaemi takes us through several leaders of both sorts - mentally ill and "normal" and I Every once in a while I encounter a popular science book that adds a dimension to my understanding of the world, and this was one of these books. But first the book review: the basic argument is that mental illness is a benefit to some leaders under some circumstances, namely, during times of crisis. Churchill, for instance. A normal leader will tend to fail under such circumstances. Chamberlain for instance. Ghaemi takes us through several leaders of both sorts - mentally ill and "normal" and I found his arguments lucid and convincing. The writing is clear and to-the-point, although I found it tended to be a bit repetitive - an editor would've helped, but they apparently went extinct somewhere around the turn of the century. I have a general knowledge of 20th century western history, so I wasn't stretched too much here, but I was surprised to learn just how sick John F. Kennedy was (physically). I knew he had Addison's and a bad back, but he was literally at death's door on several occasions, starting in the 1950s. The only reason he lived as long as he did is that cortisone and other treatments for Addison's came along in the 1950s. Otherwise, it seems unlikely he'd have made it to 30. Ghaemi's is a good book, and it deserves a better review than this one, but it was one passage in particular that astounded me, so the rest of this is going to be about that (you've been warned!). *** Ghaemi notes, while developing his ideas on leadership and mental illness, that in order to know what mental illness is, there has to be some consensus on what "normal" is. He then describes an effort to do this by researcher Roy Grinker way back in 1962. “About half a century ago, one of Sigmund Freud's last pupils decided to study mental health. The psychiatrist Roy Grinker - editor of the Archives of General Psychiatry, chairman of a department of psychiatry -- had already spent decades studying mental illness when he began to wonder about mental health. Freud had written little about mental health. He and his followers saw neurosis as part of being human, and thus we were all more or less ill, so Freudians essentially avoided the concept of mental health. Grinker decided to take on this task. In search of normal men, he turned to a YMCA-run college in his home city of Chicago; there he received permission to give psychological tests to half the student body of 343 people, from whom he selected sixty-five men who screened smack in the middle of the healthy range. Grinker interviewed them each personally and repeatedly over two years, and gradually assembled a detailed list of ingredients that make for mental health. The students at George Williams College had been active in their local YMCA, and their connections to that organization, their church, and their communities were long and deep. "Uncertainty about the future is minimal," Grinker noted, among these "upright young men." They came from white- and blue-collar families in the Midwest. They had slightly above average IQs, average college grades (mostly C's), and no childhood or adolescent conflicts with their families. Two-thirds said they had been disciplined firmly by their parents, with well-established boundaries for conduct, they saw these constraints as beneficial and reasonable. Except for four people with abnormal mood states (two with hypomania and two with depression), two stutterers, two people who displayed paranoid thinking, and one person with recurrent nightmares, the great majority (85 percent) lacked even the mildest mental abnormality. Grinker noted that though the subjects enjoyed team sports in high school, "only sometimes did one claim to be the leader of a social, work, or sport group." These men were better designed to be followers than leaders; "The average subject has had practically no trouble with those in authority" and even "Maintains that he would abide by rules which he considered to be unfair." " Overall there is a "picture of an individual who would be submissive to authority, but not slavishly." Searing for a term less loaded than "normal" to describe these people, Grinker called them homoclites, a Latinate term he invented to indicate "those who follow a common rule." Writing in 1962, Grinker anticipated the Nixonian concept of the "Silent Majority": "Within the general population of the United States this group is relatively silent. Its members are goal-directed, anxious only in striving to do their jobs well in which they will have moved up from their fathers' positions, but with little ambition for upward social or economic mobility. By the nature of their aspirations to do well, to do good, and to be liked they plan to carry on their lives quietly in simple comfort, marry and raise their families, and retire on small pensions plus social security." (italics in original). He saw the cultural benefits of homoclites" "People like the George Williams students form a solid steady core of stability. They are the middle-of-the-roaders in every way, neither liberal nor conservative, neither hoarders nor speculators, neither grimly tight lipped nor high-steppers. Without them the ambitious, fast-moving climbers would slip into the mire of political, social, and economic chaos. They are not only Kansas...they are America." He also observed how unsuited they were to leadership: "To have a population of relative stability is necessary for the activity of those who possess creativity...Every American boy could become President of the United States, but those that do need the common citizen to elect him and for him to govern. Every country needs its proletariat, using the word in Toynbee's sense. It constitutes the majority which is led by the creative individual who withdraws from his society, returning to lead it in the light of his discoveries." Roy Grinker identified a previously understudied biological specimen - the normal American male. Yet his colleagues were unsatisfied: "I often described my subject-population to various social and professional groups characterized by driven social upward-mobile or prestige-seeking people, who, although outwardly serene, were consumed with never-satisfied ambitions. The invariable comment was 'those boys are sick, they have no ambition.'” Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness, Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011), from Chapter 14 "Homoclite Leaders Bush, Blair, Nixon, and Others," pages 211-213. The brilliance of this seems self-evident to me, and very, very clarifying. I felt that a whole lot of what has long baffled me about other people is now a whole lot clearer. Why Roy Grinker and his research isn't better known is unfortunate (Internet information is fragmentary). Of course whenever I encounter something like this, my first question is - does this describe me? I more closely identify with Grinker's colleagues. Let me repeat that last paragraph from above: "Roy Grinker identified a previously understudied biological specimen - the normal American male. Yet his colleagues were unsatisfied: "I often described my subject-population to various social and professional groups characterized by driven social upward-mobile or prestige-seeking people, who, although outwardly serene, were consumed with never-satisfied ambitions. The invariable comment was 'those boys are sick, they have no ambition.'” Even if you never succeeded at being upwardly mobile or the found glory in your prestige-seeking, this impulse still can define you. And once defined, it is very easy to discount - or even despise - people who don't share your self-definition. These "driven social upward-mobile or prestige-seeking people" are the ones I haltingly, unsuccessfully emulated; as a young man I saw myself eventually becoming, vaguely, a writer/professor of some sort. Still dreamless, I wanted to be the kid with Big Dreams. Again, that I was unsuccessful does not change the ideal that I embraced. Lacking imagination and clear purpose and talent, I wound up in business - manufacturing inside sales - virtually all of my work colleagues over the years were homoclites, Grinker's definition of "normal." But - to contradict Grinker a little - I find this "normal" has very little to do with intelligence. Working all those years in the office, I was astonished (because I was arrogant and delusional) to find myself across the table from people - an engineer, an accountant, a purchasing manager, a fellow sales coordinator, a guy who owns a truck body company - who in terms of raw brain power were, simply, smarter than I was. Finding this out was very, very good for me (if not exactly what I wanted to hear). And yet these folks were not like me. Despite the brains, they lacked the "prestige-seeking" impulse, or diverted such an impulse towards business and career-climbing or entrepreneurship dreams. Many of them "just" wanted to be good parents. Or restore a 1965 Honda motorcycle. Or jet-ski all weekend long. They lacked, so it seems to me, curiosity - intellectual or aesthetic. There were exception, very few, but for the most part, if one of them told me they had read a literary novel in the past ten years I would've been astonished. Really, of the dozens of people I encountered over the years in the office, I encountered a very few people who read non-genre books or liked "good" movies. As for genre readers, I met a few - for instance the administrative assistant who read "knitting mysteries" - something I did not know existed. Nothing against genre, but this isn't "prestige-seeking" reading. This is entertainment. Nothing wrong with entertainment, but it is, in its mass-production aspect, a defining aspect of Normal. Disney on down. What I had and they did not was artistic pretensions and cultural-aesthetic curiosity. And so, alone in the office (mostly), I found myself in the role of the "little professor" (and sometimes ridiculed about this). Back around the time I was graduating from high school, I was haunted by Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) in the TV show Cheers - she wasn't as smart (or cunning, perhaps) as Clara (Rhea Perlman) or Sam Malone (Ted Danson) - but she was curious, read literature, and was artistically-inclined (if not talented). She was also pretentious, delusional...and often ridiculed. After a while, another of her sort comes by - Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) who was smart but awful - pretentious, vain, ridiculous, but in sharp contrast to Diane, professionally successful. No Sam Malone for sure, I feared I was Diane Chambers - ambitious but talentless, brittle and supercilious. The successful version of Diane - Frasier Crane - was not appealing either, though I have the same lofty forehead and pomposity. In the end I suppose I'm Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger), a barstool general and tedious trivia master. Cheers was a brilliant show - we can all find ourselves there, can't we? Besides books, there are other signifiers - listening to NPR, the fact I frequented a certain bar (where the actors and newspaper people and professors hung out - in the factory office this was considered to be a gay bar, which to some extent it was). You know - the "cultural" sorts of people who can be found in little cities across the fly-over zone, all of us dreaming of NYC or Portland or Chicago, where "our" people dwell. The natural reaction to this is to get the hell out of town - which I did, for a year, to Chicago, where indeed the people around me read books and acted in plays and formed bands. And yet, as agreeable as I found such surroundings, I never felt entirely comfortable - awkward and unfocussed, I had trouble making connections. So back home I went, where occasional writers' conferences, NPR on the car radio, frequent used bookstore visits, and a New Yorker subscription were my defining activities. But in my mind, if nowhere else, I'd left town (so I told myself by way of consolation and self-justification). Which leads me to wonder if there is a kind of "normal" among the "prestige-seeking" people. As noted above, I am not so sure intelligence has as much to do with it as ambition and/or vanity. The desire to, say, get published or sing on the radio - to show off - is not necessarily mated with talent or intelligence. The world abounds with ambitious but talentless painters, singers, and writers. As for the professionals, I've met some very, very mediocre tenured professors, even a couple of stupid ones. The fatuous lawyer and his art gallery, the poet who calls himself Gandalf. Over the years I've kept up my end in many, many artistic-sociological-political conversations of blithering banality, during long evenings of drinking in the "artsy" bars. Even sober I can crank myself up to a high-toned fatuousness (perhaps this review is an example of that). Which is to say, in most cases, "non-normal" people aren't as smart as we think we are. Cliff Claven with a goatee...Monsieur Claven c'est moi. Too much autobiography and navel-gazing. Apologies! But read that bit on Roy Grinker and think about your attitude towards the recent Biden-Trump election. Or if you are old enough, think about Nixon's Silent Majority and where you or your parents or your grandparents were and what they were thinking (and how they were voting) in '68 or '72. If nothing else, Grinker's research can provide a caution - be careful who you despise! You might just be despicable yourself.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Awesome concept, but ignores an entire gender.

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