The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America


 If you’ve ever wondered if a successful person you knew was actually successful because they were “crazy” you need to read this book!  Gartner discusses the genetically based psychiatric disorder of mania and its relationship to successful entreprenuers.  He argues that many entrepreneurs suffer from a mild form of mania, or hypomania.  He first identifies several traits associated with hypomanics, which include, having grand ambitions, being filled with energy or flooded with ideas, working on little sleep, being a risk taker, overspending, talking fast, being witty…hmm this is starting to sound like me.  Just kidding.  Then he matches these traits with famous individuals to explore whether icons such as Christopher Columbus and Alexander Hamilton were hypomanic.  The resulting discussion is fascinating!

Gartner’s quest to determine if historical figures were hypomanics was a giant task since many of the subjects of the book are no longer alive and he was unable to test them directly.  So, he did the next best thing, he went to the biographers who knew more about them than anyone else.  He then prepared a description of a hypomanic which he read to the biographers, and asked them to rate how well those character traits described the person in question.  The response was always the same: the biographers all said the description was almost a perfect match to the person.

The book begins with an analysis of Christopher Columbus and describes how, as a hypomanic, he sought that which was unattainable at the time: finding a new continent.  Hypomanics often feel they are brilliant, chosen, special, and destined to change the world.   These traits are particularly evidence when Columbus approached Queen Isabella with the idea that Spain should pay him to travel the world in search of new lands.  His confidence and drive were so strong that he requested he be given titles, lands, and 10% of all the treasures and spices imported from any land he discovered!  Although such requests were arguable against the law at the time, he was a driven hyopmanic who changed our world.

Alexander Hamilton was another hyopmanic who sought out the company of the founding fathers because he felt he was destined for greatness.  He wanted glory in battle and was eagerly waiting for an opportunity to prove himself.  During one battle, he was assigned to dig a trench and wait with his men in it, but realizing he would not be recognized for merely being in the trench, he ordered his soldiers to get out of the trench and stand in the direct firing line of the British soldiers.  Later, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, he had the foresight to consolidate the debt of each state into a national debt, which he believed would strengthen the United States.

My favorite part of the book was the focus on the moguls of Hollywood in its Golden Age: Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick.  The focus on Selznick while he was creating, in my opinion, the best movie of all time, “Gone With The Wind” was absolutely fascinating.  Rumors that problems with the writers left the production with a script that was only half completed and that Selznick would write the script at night, makes total sense when paired with the knowledge that he enjoyed stress and working on little sleep.  Mayer virtually owned Hollywood, a result of a stunning business deal he made in a bout of overconfidence. 

The book reminded me of the book, “Outliers” which although I have not read, sounds to be very similar.  The book was interesting, and the short chapters made it easy to read.  I would recommend it, especially if you think you might be hypomanic!!

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