I was very excited to receive a copy of Nassir Ghaemi’s A First-Rate Madness to review based solely on the knowledge that it was about great leaders and “madness.” I had high hopes for this book, and the posit Ghaemi sets forth in the introduction had me even more excited to dive in. Ghaemi’s main claim in A First-Rate Madness is that “in times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones.” Fascinating. He goes on to clarify this with his Inverse Law of Sanity: “when times are good […] mentally healthy people function well as our leaders. When our world is in tumult, mentally ill leaders function best.”
Here’s the problem: I had HUGELY high expectations of the book, since I have a background and interest in both psychology and history, and having high expectations can backfire.
The introduction set out some fantastic ideas, and I was riding high, but then Ghaemi began his chapters on individual leaders … and things started to go wrong for me. In the early chapters, he bounced back and forth between three paragraphs describing the person’s personality, then a huge page break, then a few paragraphs using technical psychological language (which was very easy to understand, which is to his credit). There was not much cohesion or chance to get caught up in the book. By the time he got to the chapters on Lincoln, Ghandi, and King, I was a bit disappointed and unsure if I would be able to finish reading the book in the given time frame. These chapters seemed light on historical information and heavy on repetition of why he believes the leaders fit his thesis.
Thankfully, along came the chapters on FDR, Kennedy, and Hitler, and I was hooked again. There was an abundance of interesting details and insights, and I learned so much. I found myself nodding and going “Huh! That’s amazing!” an awful lot while reading these chapters, and that is a good sign when reading this type of book.
Maybe Ghaemi (or his editors) thought it was more important to apply the theory to a large number of leaders than to focus on a few that he had some wonderful details about. I personally would have preferred the latter, but I am neither an author nor an editor, so what do I know? J
Regardless of the things I wasn’t so fond of in this book, I would still recommend it, especially to anyone who is interested in psychology or history, or both.
If you would like to read other reviews of A First-Rate Madness, be sure to stop over at TLC Book Tours to check out the other bloggers.