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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: Game Change

November 16, 2010 | Books

I just finished reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. It’s part of TLC Book Tours November tour, and I received a review copy from the publisher, HarperCollins.

The book was written by two journalists to tell “the story behind the headlines” and give “an intimate portrait of the candidates and spouses” who vied in 2008 to occupy the White House.

I didn’t want to like this book.

I mean, c’mon. It’s gossipy and tawdry, and we’re supposed to close our eyes and believe in their “omniscient voice” (I’d go for “omnipresent,” but we could argue all day about big words) without one single, solitary note or reference. Really? On pages 265, 266 and 267, there’s an extensive conversation between Hillary Clinton and Mark Penn. It’s all in direct quotes, which is not possible unless someone recorded it. I suppose that’s possible. Did Clinton record all of her conversations and then share this one with the authors? (Do you know how much she loathes the media?) Did she allow Penn to record it and then share it? Umm, yeah. That gets a 10 on my BS-o-meter.

They made up words or checked the Urban Dictionary to sound cool: buckraking, ripshit, stovepiping (I’m betting they used the Wikipedia definition and not the Urban Dictionary one), big mo, hoovering, agita, grille, grassrootsy, mano a womano, politico-industrial complex, given the high hat, liked the cut of Palin’s jib, undercard.

They abused the thesaurus: omertà, Hobson’s choice, putative priapism, j’accuses, ab initio, Mobius strip, panjandrums, sturm und drang, parlous, Houdini juju, imprimatur, rictus, pulchritudinous, dysphoria, semiotician’s fantasia, primogeniture, apostasies, chimera, confrères, calumny, sword of Damocles, comity, savvy of a Metternich, logorrhea, hectoring, outré, chary, equipoise, claque. (If you have to look any of those up, the “sexy” ones? They’re all about Bill Clinton.)

And really? Going from ripshit to imprimatur in darn near the same breath was indicative of the often bipolar craziness of politicians and the campaign trail. So, I say — whether it was intentional or not — well done.

And, oh, could they turn a phrase and paint a picture with their words.

When explaining how narcissistic and out of control John Edwards was when he was desperately trying to make deals with Clinton and Obama: “Then again, Rielle Hunter was only eight months pregnant. So Edwards still had another month to strike a bargain.” (p. 204)

“McCain had gone from a campaign bleeding internally to spilling its entrails all over the carpet.” (p. 285)

“Instead of the Cadillac campaign that his advisers once had in mind, he was driving around in the political equivalent of a Ford Pinto — with a hamster wheel for an engine, and Rick Davis sprinting furiously on the thing to keep it spinning.” (p. 301)

“Making matters worse, the lengthy Democratic nomination fight meant that the Obama forces had operations in nearly every state, firing on all cylinders — whereas McCainworld was sputtering along forever on the verge of needing roadside assistance.” (p. 328)

“On September 10, McCain and Palin appeared together in Fairfax, Virginia, a few miles from the campaign’s headquarters. Fifteen thousand people swarmed into Van Dyke Park — little girls wearing ‘STRONG WOMEN VOTE MCCAIN-PALIN’ T-shirts, their mothers chanting, ‘Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!’ Later that afternoon, Palin would board a flight to Alaska for her interview with Gibson. At the moment, though, she stood there on stage, perched atop a pair of ruby-red heels, looking less like Eliza Doolitle than Dorothy: the girl swept up in the cyclone, lifted out of her black-and-white world and deposited in a Technicolor Oz. Obama and his people certainly felt as though a house had been dropped on their heads.” (p. 373)

Pulchritudinous, no?

I followed the presidential campaign closely. I watched the debates. I shared my concerns, of which I had so, very many. I got the whole politicians-as-celebrities thing, with them showing up on late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live.

So there wasn’t a whole lot of surprises for me in this book. But it was an entertaining read. And there’s nothing better than an entertaining read. Because when it comes to politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“We’ve come to the point where every four years this national fever rises up — this hunger for the Saviour, the White Knight, the Man on Horseback — and whoever wins becomes so immensely powerful, like Nixon is now, that when you vote for President today you’re talking about giving a man dictatorial power for four years. … It’s come to the point where you almost can’t run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail [‘]72.

Posted by Becky @ 10:30 pm | 2 Comments  


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