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

A First-Rate MadnessAfter discussing in depth about depression and its setbacks with a new friend, he recommended that I read A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi to learn about how having a mental illness can be helpful in certain situations. I furiously read page after page because a) I love biographies and b) reading about leaders who used their mental illnesses as an advantage in times of crises was refreshing. Some of the leaders included Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi.

The author argues that political leaders who dealt with bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental illnesses used their empathy and depressive realism to come out on top in severely troubling times. Ghaemi also argues that political leaders who are mentally healthy have the upper hand in peaceful times, not in times of wars. Ghaemi uses medical and historical records to support his thesis, and he also addresses arguments against his thesis. The author even discusses how the wrong medications caused leaders with mental illnesses to make terrible decisions, like Adolf Hitler.

I would have liked the author to have addressed mentally ill and mentally sane women leaders and how they dealt with peaceful times and times of crises. The author also could have discussed more examples of leaders in different cultures as well. Some of the leaders he chose to describe as homoclites (mentally healthy people) and mentally ill leaders did not really fit in these categories due to situational contexts and personality traits as well.

The author wasn’t trying to say that people who are mentally ill will make great leaders or that great leaders should be mentally ill. He was saying that some leaders have made creative, triumphant decisions because their mental illness may have helped them get to that point (and that they should be medically treated appropriately). The author urges the reader not to stigmatize all mental illnesses and to see the potential strengths in some mental illnesses.

What do you think of the author’s argument? Has this book made it to your reading list?

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