Close followers of politics, and perhaps of the current election cycle in particular, must occasionally entertain the notion that a commitment to life in the political realm requires some degree of madness. The title of A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness offers a fleeting hope that author Nassir Ghaemi, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, will explore that theme. Sadly, writes Lucy Steigerwald, he passes up the opportunity.
Instead Ghaemi cooks up a thesis that is deceptively simple and semi-convincing: Not only did some leaders suffer from mental illness, but mental illness helped them perform well during crises. Balancing this optimistic take on the political uses of insanity is a new book by British journalist Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, which takes more seriously the dark side of mental illness among powerful men. In an essay from our May issue, Steigerwald reviews both books.