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Press Release - 02/24/05

THE LINK BETWEEN (A LITTLE)
CRAZINESS AND (A LOT OF) SUCCESS
IN AMERICA

“The Hypomanic Edge reveals a secret history of America, the hidden psychiatric underbelly of legendary successes and the cult of celebrity. John Gartner tells the story with gripping detail and a clinician’s authority. After this book, you’ll never read the business pages in quite the same way.”
--Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

For the first time, a leading clinical psychologist argues that America’s unique entrepreneurial character, unmatched wealth, and spectacular achievements are due to a high incidence of hypomania—a mild form of mania that produces elevated levels of energy, creativity, and risk-taking—in THE HYPOMANIC EDGE: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America (Simon & Schuster; March 10, 2005; $26.00). A fresh, provocative, and scientifically grounded explanation of America’s singular national character, entrepreneurial culture, and market manias, THE HYPOMANIC EDGE will be of particularly keen interest to business people, students of psychology, and those fascinated by the great figures of American history. John D. Gartner, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, is the first researcher to offer a credible biological and genetic theory that explains why some men and women are natural entrepreneurs, why Americans are truly different from other people, and why American business is unlike that of any other country. Our immigrant ancestors, Gartner contends, carried a high level of the genes responsible for hypomania, providing the biological engine for our nation’s unprecedented accomplishments.

To show hypomania in action, Gartner draws on detailed interviews with contemporary entrepreneurs like Craig Venter, who is directing a major effort to map the human genome, as well the biographies of key figures across five centuries of American history, including Christopher Columbus, John Winthrop, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, and Louis B. Mayer.

Nearly a decade ago, at the height of the Internet mania, high-tech entrepreneurs making grandiose claims swept up millions of Americans with their irrational exuberance, inflating the biggest speculative bubble in history. Gartner recognized that virtually every one of those entrepreneurs fit the criteria for hypomania, leading him to believe that “market mania” was more than a figure of speech. In-depth interviews with Internet CEOs confirmed his initial impression, as they enthusiastically agreed that they had all the signs of hypomania. Moreover, as Gartner surveyed American history, he found it punctuated by periods of rapid economic growth fueled by hypomanic personalities, alternating with recessions and depressions.

Mania and hypomania: the critical difference
Hypomania is recognized by psychiatry, as John Gartner points out, as a genetically based condition that endows people with high energy, creativity, accelerated thinking, inflated self-esteem, impulsivity, aggressiveness, and a propensity for taking risks. It is not, by contrast, clinical mania—also called manic depression or bipolar disorder, which is a serious psychiatric illness.

A small but growing body of literature on hypomania suggests that 5 to 10 percent of the population is hypomanic, while clinical manic depression exists in slightly less than 1 percent of the general population. The fact that hypomania is so much more common than mania offers us a crucial clue to its genetic function and evolutionary importance, Gartner maintains. Throughout human history and prehistory, hypomania has undoubtedly produced highly motivated, charismatic, and creative individuals who gave our forebears a critical edge over the competition and enhanced their chances of survival and reproduction.

The hypomanic edge, however, is a double-edged sword. The same genes that create overachievers also lead to impulsive behavior (ready, shoot, aim) and over-confident leaders who glibly take their followers over a cliff. Depending on your perspective, for example, the Internet stock market phenomenon of the 1990s was either a brilliant burst of economic and technological innovation or a colossal error of judgment that forced us to ask, “What were we thinking?” In truth, it was both, according to Gartner.

A hypomanic nation?
Energy, drive, cockeyed optimism, entrepreneurial and religious zeal, Yankee ingenuity, messianism, and arrogance are all traits that have long been attributed to an “American character.” But given how closely they overlap with the hypomanic profile, Gartner asserts, they might better be understood as expressions of an American temperament, shaped in large part by our rich concentration of hypomanic genes.

Immigrants are not typical people. Only about one out of a hundred people emigrate from their native countries, and they tend to be gifted with special ambition and energy, motivation, and aptitude.

To be sure, hypomanics are ideally suited by temperament to become immigrants. If you are an impulsive, optimistic, high-energy risk taker, you are more likely to undertake a project that requires a lot of energy, entails a lot of risk, and might seem daunting if you thought about it too long or too realistically. “I think America has drawn hypomanics like a magnet,” Gartner writes. “This wide-open land with seemingly infinite horizons has been a giant Rorschach on which they could project their oversize fantasies of success, an irresistible attraction for restless, ambitious people who have felt hemmed in by native lands with comparatively fewer opportunities.” [p. 12]

Captains outrageous
And America has been good to hypomanics, as it has liberated their energies and lifted their spirits. In return, hypomanic Americans have been good to America, powering a wilderness colony ahead of every other nation on the planet in just a few hundred years. An untold number of hypomanics helped make America the richest and most successful nation in history, although Gartner tells the stories of just a few. Christopher Columbus discovered America; prophets such as John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and William Penn populated it; Alexander Hamilton was one of a handful of men who conceived its national future; Andrew Carnegie sparked an industrial revolution that led to mass production; the Selznick and Mayer families helped create Hollywood, usher in the age of mass media, and portray a national self-image; and Craig Venter cracked our genetic code, the implications of which are only beginning to be fathomed.

Each chapter of THE HYPOMANIC EDGE is not only a capsule biography, but also a clinical case history of hypomania. The men profiled by Gartner were outrageous – arrogant, provocative, unconventional, and unpredictable. They were not “well-adjusted” by ordinary standards, but instead forced the world to adjust to them. Their stories are inspiring, comical, and sometimes tragic, as the hubris that fueled their improbable rise often led to their fall as well. Yet without their irrational confidence, ambitious vision, and unstoppable zeal, these outrageous captains would never have sailed into unknown waters, never discovered new worlds, never changed the course of our history.
America’s hypomanic future.

Gartner concludes with three predictions for the future of hypomania. First, he observes that everything that the world loves and hates about America—from our cheerful optimism to the war in Iraq—is a manifestation of our hypomanic temperament. He predicts that we will continue to act like a hypomanic nation, sometimes wisely and sometimes not. Second, Gartner is concerned that America may give in to the temptation to abandon the pro-immigrant ethos that made her great, particularly in the wake of September 11. He predicts that if the immigrant stream ever dries up, that will mark the beginning of the decline of the American Empire. Third, Gartner views with alarm the prospect of genetic testing that would allow parents to abort a fetus with genes for manic depression (and hence for hypomania as well). “If I’m right,” he writes, “hypomanics are on this earth for a good reason. And if we take them out of the gene pool, tomorrow’s Christopher Columbuses will never be born, and our descendants won’t find their new worlds.” [p. 301]

A challenging, entertaining and original approach to the age-old query: Why is America different?


Advanced praise for John D. Gartner’s
THE HYPOMANIC EDGE

“America is a land settled by adventurers and risk takers, and the mania that made it great seems to be bred into its genes. In this provocative and interesting book, John Gartner explores that theory with vivid case studies and an expert’s understanding of clinical psychology.”
--Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin

“Examining an assortment of historical and present-day movers and shakers through the lens of modern psychiatry, Gartner has come up with a diagnosis that could well help explain what makes America, well, America. The Hypomanic Edge is a surprising—and thoroughly engaging—book.”
--Joe Nocera, Editorial Director of Fortune, author of A Piece of the Action

“Finally someone gets it. Through fabulous profiles of the likes of Carnegie, Hamilton, the Selznicks and the Mayers—my favorites—John D. Gartner explains how brains hardwired for success, otherwise known as hypomania, have contributed so much to the richness of our great country. Three cheers for Gartner. He recognizes that hypomania is integral to the success of those who challenge every assumption on the way to creating fabulous wealth, brilliant movies, and, yes, even a nation.”
--James Cramer, markets commentator for CNBC
and thestreet.com and author of Confessions of a Street Addict

“Gartner’s genius is to make visible a psychological phenomenon that is part
of our history and daily lives which we didn't see before. It will change the way Americans think of themselves, and incite hypomania envy among the normal people of the world.”
--Harry Segal, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Cornell University

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John D. Gartner graduated from Princeton University and received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is widely published in medical journals and books. He is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School and a psychotherapist in private practice in Baltimore.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
THE HYPOMANIC EDGE:
The Link Between (A Little) Craziness And (A Lot of) Success in America
By John D. Gartner, Published by Simon & Schuster, March 10, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-4344-7, Price: $26.00
www.hypomanicedge.com

 

 

 

 

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