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Is it always better to be sane, or are there circumstances where being pushed over into mild insanity is a positive virtue? Some world leaders function well in times of great stress, and others who have functioned well in tranquil times fail when major social conflicts fall upon humanity. As a general rule it appears that people who have been raised in stable situations and succeeded in that environment do well when embedded within stable situations when working. However, these completely sane and healthy people who have never been confronted with turbulent, confusing and deadly problems don’t do well when disaster comes along.

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illnessby Nassir Ghaemi discusses various major political leaders from history and compares their ability to cope with their problems. The American Civil War had General McClellan, a super successful man in peace and a careful planner in war, but he always failed in combat situations. Contrasted with him was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was an alcoholic and a consistent failure in peace, both before and after the war, but who consistently won victories for the North. Another comparison was Neville Chamberlain, of great fame in England between WWI and WWII because of his consistent public success, but he led England into failure and national despair at the beginning of the war with Hitler. At the brink of defeat he was ousted and the man all Englishmen hated, Winston Churchill, whom they had ousted from public service between the wars, was made Prime Minister. Winston brought a nation not yet defeated militarily but devastated emotionally back from hanging over the brink of total disaster to resistance and eventually total victory.

I read this book because of my interest in Adverse Childhood Experiences versus Positive Childhood Experiences, because it would seem reasonable that those people who had the best childhoods would be the ones who would be most successful in all phases of adult life. “A First-Rate Madness” demonstrates that the adult personalities that deal best with particular situations were raised from childhood, and perhaps from infancy, to cope with their problems. There may be an infinite number of unique adult situations, but war and peace are categories that clearly require their unique type of personalities to be successful leaders. Nice normal people don’t do well as Commander-in-Chief in war.

To be supreme at some task requires a lifetime of training for that task.