A Musing: A First-Rate Madness


I bet most of us have thought about the connection between mental illness and creativity. We are all familiar with the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” creative types of the literary, art, and music world. But have you ever thought about it in terms of leadership ability? Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, has done just that in his book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness. What follows is a fascinating thesis: in times of crisis, various disorders can actually enhance leadership ability. Depression breeds realistic thinking (Gandhi and MLK). The insanity of WWII Germany (Hitler) needed someone also off-kilter (Churchill) to fight against it, and the normal man (Chamberlain) couldn’t size up the situation properly. Speaking of Hitler, did you know JFK was fueled by a very similar cocktail of steroids, amphetamines and barbiturates? Ghaemi does try to relay all of the information in a respectful, neutral way, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my mouth was hanging open at some of the things I read!

This rush of information was interesting reading, but in my (“normal” or not, we won’t go in to that!) mind, I kept on hearing a number of my psychology professors shouting “CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!” and jumping around furiously. This is a lot of supposing, comparing, relating, and wondering for a scientist. I think that some of the parallels Ghaemi draws are plausible (but some troubling! He states the Rorschach inkblot tests of German SS officers do not show pathology, but in fact most closely correlate to one of the normal control groups they used to test them against: those of American state troopers. Ah. Um.). But once he started exploring the behavior of the “normal” leaders and included George W. Bush in that pile, I really started to wonder! Ghaemi talks about when Bush, at the age of 40, gave up alcohol (the alleged cocaine controversy was not mentioned), but doesn’t say anything about the fact that it was also when he converted to Fundamentalist Christianity! I think that’s pretty big to not even mention, and it makes me wonder about the facts that he included and omitted in the previous chapters of the book. Are we just getting part of the story there, too?

Lots of food for thought, some “I DIDN’T KNOW THAT!” and a refreshing way to look our very human strengths and weaknesses, BUT I do believe that




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