A diverting, exceedingly provocative argument—sure to attract both skeptical and convinced attention.

A FIRST-RATE MADNESS

UNCOVERING THE LINKS BETWEEN LEADERSHIP AND MENTAL ILLNESS

Ghaemi (Psychology, Tufts Univ. Medical School; The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model, 2009, etc.) insists that failed leaders are mentally healthy. The best crisis leaders, more or less, are crazy.

The author demonstrates his scary thesis by thumbnail psycho-biographies of successful troubled leaders and a few flops who were, apparently, quite normal. Ghaemi’s standard diagnostic indicators include symptoms, genetic history, course of illness and treatment. Available medical history and mostly secondary sources serve as validators of mental illnesses in varying severity. General Sherman and Ted Turner, he finds, were hyper-creators. Churchill and Lincoln were depressive realists. Depressed empathy characterized Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. FDR and JFK, both chronically ill, were resiliently manic. In hard times, good politics are bipartisan and great politicians are bipolar. The depressed see life realistically, and the deranged are creative. Though readers may question whether the truly normal can achieve leadership, George W. Bush, for example, is a normal guy, writes the author in proof of his theory. Among the mentally healthy he places Richard Nixon, who failed in a crisis—one of his own making—because he saw the world clearly. For the most part, Ghaemi writes, Nazis, too, were normal folk. For his hypothesis to be taken seriously, the author was obliged to consider the quintessential psychopathic leader, Adolf Hitler, who was a charismatic leader who became crazy to excess. Ultimately, the author provides an unsatisfying diagnosis of the dictator, and he fails to examine, among others, Stalin, Hussein or bin Laden. A diseased mind, Ghaemi candidly admits, attracts stigma, but he insists that the essence of mental illness promotes crisis leadership.

A diverting, exceedingly provocative argument—sure to attract both skeptical and convinced attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59420-295-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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