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

“Was Hitler mad?”
“Corollary questions are: Were Nazi leaders mentally ill? Was the German nation, as a whole, deranged?” ― S. Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

At  First- Rate Madness is a book by  Dr. Nassir Ghaemi. It was first published in 2011 and as the title suggests, the book deals with mental illness and its connection to the leadership. It might not be the first thing you think of, but notable leaders such as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, Hitler all suffered from some sort of a mental illness. Or if not of mental illness then they were the ones to face big difficulties in their lives as was the case with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s who spent last years of his life in a wheelchair.

The author doesn’t want to point out any upsides of mental illnesses, however, the book seems to do just that, when it argues how some mental illnesses such as mania and depression appear to promote a kind of crisis leadership. And characteristics that are associated with leadership: realism, resilience, empathy, and creativity.

“The depressed person is mired in the past; the manic person is obsessed with the future. Both destroy the present in the process.”  ― S. Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness


For me, this was a very fascinating and refreshing read. And no German nation is not deranged as a whole. Regarding madness or mental illnesses…I don’t think it’s the first thing we think about the leaders that they are half mad or burdened by a mental illness. Often, instead, we see them as icons and worship them. Ghaemi has some interesting facts in his book, however, I would have enjoyed it much more if it would have been longer. I think that would have enabled the author to cover more theory and present more facts as to why he chose those particular leaders. Moreover, the book lacked the presence of the female leaders and current day leaders. I think that would have made this a much better read. All in all, I learned many new things so 3/5

How-To Read A First-Rate Madness
1. Very refreshing read especially if you have read a lot of political biographies and need a break from them. However,  I wouldn’t take it too seriously or after reading this. You shouldn’t automatically assume that all leaders must have some kind of a mental illness.
2. I warmly recommend this book if you like historical or psychological nonfiction or biographies.
3. Just 340 pages make it quite a light book when you consider how heavy the topic is.
4. There is some lack of neutrality in describing some leaders like George W. Bush and then because it’s a man’s world, there are no female leaders mentioned.

Thoughts? Are they all mad?

Picture of the book &cover image: Suspicion, rage, remorse Rare Books Keywords: Physiognomy; Bell, Charles