A First-Rate Madness

  • by Nassir Ghaemi
  • Narrated by Sean Runnette
  • 10 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Here, Nassir Ghaemi draws from the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, and others from the past two centuries to build an argument at once controversial and compelling: the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders—realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity—also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. By combining astute analysis of the historical evidence with the latest psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.
Take realism, for instance: studies show that those suffering depression are better than “normal” people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln, Churchill, and others, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder. This book explains how mania inspired General Sherman and Ted Turner to design and execute their most creative—and successful—strategies.
Ghaemi’s thesis is robust and expansive; he even explains why 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 liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits.
Ghaemi’s bold, authoritative analysis offers powerful new tools for determining who should lead us. But perhaps most profoundly, he encourages us to rethink our view of mental illness as a purely negative phenomenon. As this book makes clear, the most common types of insanity can confer vital benefits on individuals and society at large—however high the price for those who endure these illnesses.

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What the Critics Say

“Nassir Ghamei’s book is a provocative examination of the link between leadership, depression, and mania. It will arouse enormous interest, together with anger and disagreement, and many people will want to read it.” (Paul Johnson, New York Times best-selling author of A History of the American People)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A First Rate Journey Into Resilience

I first heard of Nassir Ghaemi from a lecture on ADHD and Bipolar and then found several friends who recommended this book. It journeys into the lives of key leaders who changed the world, and tells the story which at the time the world was not yet open to hear. With public stigma and misunderstanding, if Kennedy was known to have mental issues and take drugs would the world so widely have accepted him? What about Abraham Lincoln? Why was Hitler so cruel (could drugs have made him worse?)? As a psychiatry resident I work with hundreds of patients who look for hope, meaning in the midst of their mental illness. This book can decrease your stigma of mental illness and also open up your mind to the possibility of mental illness being a positive thing in some situations.
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- Pearl Glacier

An excellent insite on leadership and neurology

What made the experience of listening to A First-Rate Madness the most enjoyable?

The thesis is so well developed, the gifts which accompany depression and mania create the best crisis leaders. I feel I better understand leaders like Sherman, FDR, Lincoln, JFK and the business leadership of Ted Turner.

Warning---SPOILER ALERT---Don't look down if you haven't read the book yet.


What did you like best about this story?

The contrast between JFK when he was poorly medicated and well medicated. I've often read about the difference between his early and late presidency in terms of critical decision making, but never with such insight.

I really want to follow up with a book on Churchill.


Which scene was your favorite?

I can't say it was exactly my favorite, but I am glad that I know Hitler was taking intravenous methamphetamine five times a day for the last four years of his life. I feel like I better understand how horrific results follow an evil mind wielding limitless power when it is clinically sick and made even worse through severe drug addiction.


Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I got choked up at the march on Washington. Looking at the momentous occasion while cognizant of the depression forged empathy of both JFK and Martin Luther King made it all the more moving.


Any additional comments?

I had no idea that JFK nearly died so many times. I liked the comparison of FDR before and after polio.

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- Amanda

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-22-2011
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.