Susan's Reviews > A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

A First-Rate Madness by S. Nassir Ghaemi
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's review
Jul 27, 2012

really liked it
Read from July 27 to 30, 2012

This book was absolutely fascinating! The author's thesis is that certain kinds of mental illness, notably bipolar disorder and its milder cousins, develop characteristics in people that enable them to deal with complex crises that other, more normal people struggle with. He talks about realism, resilience, creativity, and empathy as being those characteristics.

Most of the book is devoted to case studies of famous leaders as examples of this thesis. Some of these are very compelling (e.g., William Tecumseh Sherman, John F. Kennedy). Some not so much (e.g., Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi). Sometimes he just seems wrong, as when he describes Richard Nixon as being too normal to have been a great leader. This makes the book uneven, but it is nonetheless a very interesting and thought-provoking idea.

The author is a psychiatrist, and his style of writing is sometimes pedantic. This is the strongest negative to the book and is the reason that I gave it only four stars. This shouldn't be a deterrent to reading it if you are interested in the subject, but it is a reason to expect it to be more difficult reading in patches.


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