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

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  2,385 Ratings  ·  412 Reviews
An investigation into the surprisingly deep correlation between mental illness and successful leadership, as seen through some of history's greatest politicians, generals, and businesspeople.

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 a
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 4th 2011 by Penguin Press (first published 2011)
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Oct 19, 2014 David rated it really liked it
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
Aug 23, 2011 Nancy rated it it was ok
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
فهد الفهد
جنون من الطراز الرفيع

رغم انتقاداتي إلا أن هذا كتاب من الطراز الرفيع، يتتبع فيه ناصر قائمي سير زعماء غربيين وزعيم شرقي واحد – غاندي -، ليخلص إلى خلاصة مهمة وهي أنه لا يشترط الصحة العقلية في الزعماء، وخاصة في أوقات الأزمات، مقارناً بين تشرشل وتشمبرلين وبين شيرمان وبقية جنرالات الحرب الأهلية، كان الزعماء العاديون يزدهرون أوقات السلم، ولكنهم يفشلون في أوقات الأزمات، فيما يزدهر المصابون بالاضطراب ثنائي القطب (الهوس والاكتئاب)، يفسر قائمي ذلك بصفات معينة يثيرها هذا الاضطراب وتكون فعالة في هذا الموضع،
Feb 27, 2012 Stefanie rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Oct 28, 2011 Pat rated it it was amazing
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 (nor ...more
The psychology of mental illness is a rough subject, especially when dealing with a deceased individual, even one who is so eminent that you have a lot of data to gather upon. I received an incomplete impression of the psychology of these figures, and recalled examples from my own, alternate readings that may have contradicted these findings.

I admired the study done on Lincoln's melancholy, and found it to be profoundly inspirational. Yet this broader view misses some of the other characteristic
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
Jun 18, 2012 Kerry rated it it was amazing
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 after studying psych here's what I can tell you: Ghaemi is brilliant for those who don't know in-depth psych -
Nov 26, 2011 Cleokatra rated it it was ok
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
Sep 06, 2011 Marya rated it did not like it
"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
Aug 15, 2011 G rated it really liked it
A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi was a fantastic book, one that I wish I could convince every person in America to read, because I feel that too many Americans don’t understand mental illness at all, or they simply refuse to acknowledge the signs of illness in themselves or others due to the stigma surrounding it.

Too many people out there in this world believe that people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are just compl
Mar 06, 2015 Karishma rated it liked it
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
Nov 12, 2011 Steve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ui-lib
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 ...more
Sep 22, 2012 Jennifer rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 28, 2012 Erwin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
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
ليلى المطوع
حسنا كنت متشوقة لقراءة هذا العمل، الجنون الذي سيطر على اشهر الحكام وكان سببا في اتخاذ قرارات مصيرية، خاصة في وقت الازمات،
هل وجدت مااريده في الكتاب؟
كلا؛ الجانب الذي يدور حول سيكولوجية الحاكم المريض لم يكن كافيا، ولامقنعاً ، رغم محاولات الكاتب ذو الصوت العالي، اقناع القارئ بالادلة، وهذه الادلة هي مقتطفات من حياة الشخصية المطروحة في العمل، الحجة كانت ضعيفة خاصة واذا بحثنا عن زعماء واشخاص ناجحون لم يعانو من ثنائية القطب "المرض الذي جمع الشخصيات في هذا الكتاب" او اي مرض عقلي وكان لهم دور في تطوير ا
Sep 24, 2011 Windelbo rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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.
Michelle Cristiani
Nov 08, 2014 Michelle Cristiani rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Rebecca Budd
Apr 25, 2012 Rebecca Budd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, politics, health
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.
Dec 07, 2016 R.f.k marked it as to-read
ضيف جديد عل مكتبتي
Feb 11, 2017 Sarah rated it it was ok
Awesome concept, but ignores an entire gender.
Gale Jake
Jul 22, 2012 Gale Jake rated it liked it
Insightful in its basic concept, ie: leaders who tend toward manic are good in times of crisis, poor in times of peace and tranquility. Leaders who tend toward depression are good in times of peace and normal times, poor in times of crisis. He makes some good points.

His approach was to focus on the psychological history of leaders versus the actions of the leaders. What impact did the leader's state of mind have on the actions and outcome? Why did they behave as they did?

After a good start, the
Thomas Edmund
Mar 26, 2014 Thomas Edmund rated it it was amazing
If anything else, Ghaemi's general thesis is fascinating in itself: The ideal that mentally healthy leaders, while often successful, make poor decisions during times of crisis. According to Ghaemi leaders with poorer mental health make good leaders during times of crisis and difficulty.

Does he convince? The piece A First-Rate Madness does present some compelling arguments - Winston Churchill in particular provides a clear example of a poor peace-time leader and an iconic wartime prime minister.
Yong Lee
Dec 25, 2016 Yong Lee rated it really liked it
Nassar Ghaemi's A First Rate Madness: first rate book about mental illness and crisis leadership from JFK to Lincoln. Awesome read.
Nov 12, 2012 Alexis rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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

Jan 04, 2012 Kendra rated it it was ok
I really wanted to love this book, and I do have to give it a few positive mentions. I did learn some interesting historical facts and I think he had good points in the last chapter on stigma, but with that said on to the negatives. First of all, he makes several inaccurate statements, at one time he says that personality has three aspects when in truth most psychologists and scientists now agree that it has five. Also, on page 197 I believe it was he has a paragraph about how narcissism is not ...more
Feb 06, 2013 Lois rated it liked it
An interesting treatise in psychological history. Intrigued by the premise that mental illness can bring with it some characteristics that enhance leadership, I picked it up and struggled with the last half particularly. The author, a Tufts University psychiatrist and expert in mood disorders looks at General Sherman, Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Hitler and does some comparisons with what he calls "homoclites" (normal mental health status and wow, ...more
Feb 09, 2013 Cynde rated it liked it
Without a doubt this book tackles a fascinating topic.I enjoyed learning of the personal struggles of famous historical figures as these facts are rarely mentioned in mainstream history. The author's suggestion that leaders with mental illness serve us better in times of crisis however, is both difficult to prove, and subjective.
We cannot recreate the exact conditions of the Second World War and appoint an alternate British Prime Minister, one deemed to be mentally competent,to see how the out
Tom Douglas
Jun 23, 2014 Tom Douglas rated it liked it
The author's premise is shaky at best. The idea that mental illness is prevalent across multiple great leaders doesn't quite hold water. If the lynchpin of the argument is William Tecumseh Sherman, the blanket premise is unsound. While an important figure, and definitely a functional schizophrenic, you'll need someone of higher prominence to make a strong point across the breadth of history.

Sherman's account, along with Kennedy and other politicians, feels too much like the conjecture you'd find
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Nassir Ghaemi MD MPH is an academic psychiatrist specializing in mood illnesses, depression and bipolar illness, and Editor of a monthly newsletter, The Psychiatry Letter (

He is Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the Mood Disorders Program. He is a also a Clinical Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and teaches at the Cambridge Hea
More about S. Nassir Ghaemi...

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“The depressed person is mired in the past; the manic person is obsessed with the future. Both destroy the present in the process.” 21 likes
“King and Gandhi had found a way to use aggressive impulses to resist injustice without hurting others. Where did the aggression go? The answer, as King would later tell Poussaint, was this: into the courage needed to resist without fighting back physically...” 4 likes
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