Historians have long puzzled over the apparent mental instability of great and terrible leaders alike: Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, and others. In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, offers a myth-shattering exploration of the powerful connections between mental illness and leadership and sets forth a controversial, compelling thesis: The very qualities that mark those with mood disorders also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of Lincoln's "depressive realism" to the lackluster leadership of exceedingly sane men as Neville Chamberlain, A First-Rate Madness overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind.
I find these comparisons deeply suspicious. If there indeed were a strong link between leadership ability and mental illness, there cannot be a very big difference between Lincoln and Chamberlain for the reason that both men were surely at the very tails of the relevant distributions. One does not become a British Prime minister by being average. I fully expect the book to be full of cherry-picked data supporting narratives built largely on popular stereotypes about successful and unsuccessful leaders of dubious accuracy.