A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi – Audiobook Review

A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, narrated by Sean Runnette
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio, published in print by The Penguin Press Hardcover


From the publisher:

Nassir Ghaemi draws on the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, JFK, and others from the past two centuries to build a compelling argument: the qualities that mark those with mood disorders also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. By combining analysis of historical evidence with psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances. Ghaemi’s analysis offers powerful tools for determining who should lead us and encourages us to rethink our view of mental illness.

Thoughts on the story:

Okay, so, fascinating! Ghaemi presents a very convincing argument to theory that leaders with mood disorders excel in a crisis. In addition to his examples of Sherman, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, and JFK, he also offers counterexamples, such as Bush, Blair, and Nixon, which only helped to support his theory.

One thing that stood out to me, somewhat unrelated to what Ghaemi had to say, came as a result of having listened to The Psycopath Test by Jon Ronson not long beforehand. Both psychopathy and mood disorders, based on the the reportings of these two authors, seem to be noteworthy largely for the amounts of empathy persons with the disorder have. For psychopaths, of course, the the problem is a lack of empathy, but I was surprised to learn from Ghaemi that a noteworthy trait of depressive and bipolar mood disorders is actually an over-abundance of empathy, which is part of what makes persons with mood disorders such effective leaders, in Ghaemi’s point of view. For me, though, it was just fascinating to think about the variety of of disorders that could be caused by (or at least related to) either too much or too little empathy. Truly, the human brain is a complex thing.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sean Runnette has recently become one of my favorite narrators of nonfiction. He delivers material in a straightforward manner, with an appropriate amount of interest and emotion. Thanks to Runnette’s strong performance, Ghaemi’s thesis is easy to follow.


Fascinating and well-narrated. Dive in with either print or audio.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

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Source: Audiofile Magazine.
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4 comments to A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi – Audiobook Review

  • I’ve found that I enjoy non-fiction in audio more than print and this sounds like an engrossing topic. I’ll have to give it a listen.

  • Amy

    This book sounds fascinating. I love how you tied in The Psychopath Test here, too.
    I had no idea that many individuals with mood disorders have an over-abundance of empathy, which is very interesting. I also wasn’t aware that many powerful men and leaders have mood disorders. I think their accomplishments are even more impressive in this light particularly since the few people I’ve known with bipolar disorder and other mood disorders had difficulty managing in their lives.

    Great review, Jen!

  • Interesting topic, I’m not familiar with this book/audio, so I’m guessing this is nonfiction. Mmmm never thought about doing non fiction in audio, good idea!

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