THE HYPOMANIC EDGE: The Bipolar Disorder That Made America the Most Successful Nation in the World

John Gartner, Author . Simon & Schuster $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4344-5

Diagnosing the psychiatric condition of dead historical figures is risky business, and in a largely unconvincing book, Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Gartner falls prey to the modern tendency to reduce an individual's actions to a psychiatric diagnosis. He argues that hypomania—a mild form of mania—drove many of America's most famous leaders and entrepreneurs to succeed. The characteristics of hypomania include a restless energy channeled into wildly grand ambitions, a tendency toward euphoria and a feeling of being destined to change the world. In nine brief psychobiographies, Gartner imposes this diagnostic scheme on figures ranging from Christopher Columbus and John Winthrop to David O. Selznick and Craig Venter, the genome entrepreneur. He also contends that hypomania is a peculiarly American trait. Applying terms like "depression" and "hypomania" to Winthrop's spiritual ups and downs, for instance, is anachronistic and reductionist. Gartner does provide some proof of his theory with Venter, whose life and work can be scrutinized firsthand, though he hasn't been on Gartner's couch. The author offers us few useful insights into the lives of these historical figures, nor does he seem to have any qualms about framing his case for an "American temperament" solely in male terms. Agent, Betsy Lerner. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/07/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-1-4391-0773-7
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-7432-4345-2
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