Lucy Steigerwald on the Insanity of Politicians and the Politics of Insanity


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.