Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First-Rate Madness, on tour August/September 2011

Posted By on July 18, 2011

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

• Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: The Penguin Press (August 4, 2011)

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.

What makes a leader succeed in critical moments?  Why are some able to navigate difficult times and inspire their people while others fail in similar circumstances?  Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, who runs the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, makes a bold and astute argument in A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Health—that the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.

Ghaemi identifies four key traits essential to crisis leadership that can be enhanced by depression or mania: realism, empathy, creativity, and resilience. He draws on the latest psychiatric research as he looks at the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as General William Sherman, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and also business leaders like Ted Turner. What Ghaemi uncovers is that our great heroes were neither “normal” nor were they special in the sense of being better, or more perfect, than the rest of us. They often suffered from mental illness and these mood disorders actually enhanced in them the features that make leaders excel during moments of crisis. In the case of Lincoln and Winston Churchill, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism and empathy helped these men tackle both personal and national challenges. For General Sherman and Ted Turner, mania proved a catalyst for the design and execution of some of their most creative and successful strategies.  Depression built empathy and resilience in figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

Ghaemi’s thesis is both robust and expansive; he even explains why eminently sane men like Neville Chamberlain and George W. Bush made such poor leaders. Though sane people are better shepherds in good times, sanity can be a severe liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders, Ghaemi explains, can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits.

Compelling and illuminating, A First-Rate Madness encourages us to rethink our view of mental illness as a purely negative phenomenon. And by shedding light on the traits of good leadership in both good and bad times it encourages us to seek those skills in our future leaders.

About Dr. Nassir Ghaemi

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.  He trained in psychiatry at, and also serves on the faculty of, Harvard University’s Medical School, and has degrees in history, philosophy and public health.

Visit Dr. Ghaemi at his website. Read his blog Mood Swings and Free Associations.

Nassir’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, August 23rd: Justice Jennifer

Wednesday, August 24th: Amusing Reviews

Thursday, August 25th: A Library of My Own

Friday, August 26th: Chunky Monkey

Monday, August 29th: What Would the Founders Think?

Wednesday, September 7th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, September 8th: The Left Coaster

Tuesday, September 13th: Deep Muck Big Rake

Thursday, September 15th: Everyone Needs Therapy

Tuesday, September 20th: LitBrit

Wednesday, September 28th: The Abraham Lincoln Blog

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