The Lunacy to Lead
A FIRST-RATE MADNESS: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness.
By Nassir Ghaemi.
Penguin. 340 pp. $27.95
In September 2001, I was working in Manhattan as an assistant director of a homeless shelter in which lived 200 men. Each had a psychotic illness. For two days after the 9/11 attacks I was unable to get into Manhattan, but I made it to work on Thursday, September 13, taking the bus over the George Washington Bridge. The city felt like a war zone. The acrid smell of smoke suffused the air; sirens and alarms sounded constantly; armed soldiers or police officers stood on every corner. I steeled myself, expecting the shelter to be, well, more insane than usual.
I was astonished to find everything at the shelter as it always was—if anything, a little calmer. When I asked the residents if they had any concerns, someone pointed out that the hot water was not working very well. No one mentioned the fact that a large portion of lower Manhattan was no longer there. At last I felt compelled to bring up the attacks. The men said they felt bad for those who had suffered, but all of that had happened a couple of days ago. At first I was indignant at their seeming apathy, but over time I realized that 9/11 was for many of them the day the level of crisis in the world met their own. Functioning in a crisis mode was something they knew how to do very well.
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Charles Barber, a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale Medical School, is the author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (2008). He is currently writing a novel about a depressed detective.more from this author >>