A First-Rate Madness

Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

Nassir Ghaemi - Author

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ISBN 9781101517598 | 352 pages | 04 Aug 2011 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
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An investigation into the surprisingly deep correlation between mental illness and successful leadership, as seen through the lives of some of the most important political figures in history

In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, offers a myth-shattering exploration of the powerful connections between mood illnesses (depression and bipolar disorder) and leadership. He sets forth a controversial, compelling thesis: the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders—creativity, resilience, empathy, and realism—also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of the “depressive realism” and creativity of mentally ill or mentally abnormal figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the lackluster leadership of “mentally normal” men such as Neville Chamberlain, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, A First-Rate Madness overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind and provides a unique insight for understanding our current political leaders and presidential candidates going into the next election season.
A First-Rate Madness includes profiles of Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ted Turner, among other famous leaders.

Introduction: The Inverse Law of Sanity

Part One Creativity

CHAPTER ONE Make Them Fear and Dread Us: Sherman

CHAPTER TWO Work Like Hell—And Advertise: Turner

Part Two Realism

CHAPTER THREE Heads I Win, Tails It's Chance

CHAPTER FOUR Out of the Wilderness: Churchill

CHAPTER FIVE Both Read the Same Bible: Lincoln

Part Three Empathy

CHAPTER SIX Mirror Neuron on the Wall

CHAPTER SEVEN The Woes of Mahatmas: Gandhi

CHAPTER EIGHT Psychiatry for the American Soul: King

Part Four Resilience


CHAPTER TEN A First-Rate Temperament: Roosevelt

CHEPATER ELEVEN Sickness in Camelot: Kennedy

Part Five Treatment

CHAPTER TWELVE A Spectacular Psychochemical Success: Kennedy Revisited


Part Six Mental Health

CHAPTER FOURTEEN Homoclite Leaders: Bush, Blair, Nixon, and Others

CHAPTER FIFTEEN Stigma and Politics






“A glistening psychological history, faceted largely by the biographies of eight famous leaders… A First-Rate Madness is carefully plotted and sensibly argued.”

“Ghaemi isn’t the first to claim that madness is a close relative of genius, or even the first to extend the idea into politics.  But he does go further than others… His explanations are elegant, too—intuitively accurate and banked off the latest psychiatric research.”

“A provocative thesis… Ghaemi’s book deserves high marks for original thinking.” –THE WASHINGTON POST

“Ghaemi is a remarkably disciplined writer, and he examines both psychiatry and history with impressive clarity and sensitivity. A First-Rate Madness will almost certainly be one of the most fascinating books of the year, not just because of the author's lucid prose and undeniable intelligence, but because of his provocative thesis: "For abnormal challenges, abnormal leaders are needed."” --NPR.ORG

“Provocative, fascinating.” –SALON.COM

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