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Books: A First-Rate Madness

September 13, 2011 | Books,Politics,TLC Book Tours

I just finished reading A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi. I received a review copy from the publisher, Penguin.

When I first got this book, I thought, oh great. Another book about a bunch of dead guys. And it was, indeed, a book about men. It was about some of the most noted leaders in history — Lincoln, Sherman, Churchill, Gandhi, FDR, JFK, MLK and Ted Turner — and how mental illness either hurt or helped them as leaders. And it’s not what you might think.

He argues that a leader who suffers from, say, depression is the best leader during a time of crisis. With such a mental illness, he says, a leader is more likely to have the qualities of realism, empathy, resilience and creativity — all of which are needed to lead others through a crisis.

He also argues that leaders who are mentally healthy — Bush, Blair, Nixon — do more harm than good during crises.

I was skeptical at first. I figured this might be someone with a singular focus into which he wanted to fit this idea. It actually turned out, though, to be the opposite. He had a much more varied background — a degree in history, another in philosophy and another in public health — which helped him see patterns that others would not. A historian, for example, might fail to see the dimensions of mental illness in a subject’s life. Ghaemi, however, was able to draw from all of these aspects of his background to see a subject more clearly and completely.

He asked an important question after discussing Hitler (whose manic-depression was made worse by how and with what he was medicated), “Why not just exclude the mentally ill from positions of power?”

Because, he answered, “… such a stance would have deprived humanity of Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. But there’s an even more fundamental reason not to restrict leadership roles to the mentally healthy: they make bad leaders in times of crisis — just when we need good leadership most.”

I expected his writing to be dry or somewhat academic, but it wasn’t. He’s engaging and compelling, and the book is a great read. I highly recommend it.

Posted by Becky @ 3:43 pm | 4 Comments  

Books: Tangled Webs

June 17, 2011 | Books,TLC Book Tours

I just finished reading Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America — From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff by James B. Stewart. It’s a book on the June tour for TLC Book Tours, and I received a review copy from the publisher, Penguin Group.

The book was written by Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart and dedicated “To all who seek the truth.”

Stewart meticulously lines up the situations of four people — Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds and Bernie Madoff — shows where they lied and explained the harm that such lies do to society.

I’d seen the headlines and heard some of the chatter about each case, but it was interesting to read the details Stewart provided.

I have to admit, though, that my eyes glazed over when we got to Madoff and the stock market. (Interesting that, having written for The Wall Street Journal and his expertise in the stock market, Stewart’s section on Madoff was the shortest.) I couldn’t help but think, really? It took everyone that long to smell the BS? I’m no Wall Street expert — far from it. But I kept thinking, “It’s not supposed to be that complicated. Nothing is.” Smelled like total BS to me.

Stewart quotes from Lying, a book by philosopher and ethicist Sissela Bok: “Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.” He also says that lying that goes unpunished breeds cynicism that undermines civilization.

I agree with what he says. I can’t help but think of him as a wide-eyed idealist, which is an odd thing for me to call a man of almost 60.

But is lying really a new epidemic? I don’t think so. And sending Martha Stewart to jail certainly hasn’t deterred so many others from lying. I mean, really. Turn on the television on any given day, and what do you see? Arnold Schwarzenegger anyone? (His story was breaking as I started reading this book.) Or how about Anthony Weiner? Or what about those men who told everyone they were lesbian bloggers? Those are just a few recent examples. I could spend all day looking up others.

Does that make me a cynic? Maybe. Or maybe it just means I don’t like the smell of BS. (Y’all have seen my header at the top of the page, right?)

Even so, maybe it takes an idealist to keep writing about and discussing these issues so we can aspire to be better … and expect better from others.

Posted by Becky @ 12:00 pm | 2 Comments  


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