Hamilton’s “Hypomanic Edge?”

I recently came across a 2005 business psychology book by John D. Gartner entitled The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot Of) Success in America.

Gartner states:

Hypomania is a mild form of mania, often found in the relatives of manic depressives. Hypomanics are brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas. They think, talk, move, and make decisions quickly. Anyone who slows them down with questions “just doesn’t get it.” Hypomanics are not crazy, but “normal” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing them. Hypomanics live on the edge, betweeen normal and abnormal.

The Harvard Mental Health Newsletter states:

The formal DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for hypomania require at least three of the following symptoms for at least four days: inflated self-esteem or grandiosity; decreased need for sleep; increased talkativeness; racing thoughts or ideas; marked distractibility; agitation or increased activity; excessive participation in activities that are pleasurable but invite personal or fiscal harm (shopping sprees, sexual indiscretions, impulsive business investments, and the like).

Gartner’s theory is that “America has an extraordinarily high number of hypomanics,” and that a majority of successful entrepreneurs and innovators have hypomanic characteristics. Gartner also states that hypomania creates a situation in which:

“the drives that motivate behavior surge to a screaming pitch, making the urgency of action irresistible. There isn’t a minute to waste– this is going to be huge– just do it! This pressure to act creates overachievers, but it also leads to impulsive behavior…”

Hamilton is featured prominently in the book as Gartner attempts to analyze Hamilton’s life “through the eyes of a clinician.” Gartner’s theory is that “Hamilton was bipolar, but more important, that if he hadn’t been, he couldn’t have led the charge to launch a nation. Hamilton’s hypomania was an essential ingredient in his accomplishments.” Gartner finds examples of hypomanic behavior throughout Hamilton’s career: his willingness to lead his troops into dangerous battle, his relentless energy in pushing forward the Constitution, and his vision for the Department of Treasury. Gartner states that Hamilton’s grandiose vision was transferred to his “radical and unswerving vision” of America. Gartner points to Hamilton’s unstoppable energy and ability to work on very little sleep for long, intense periods as symptomatic of hypomania.

Gartner has an interesting take, but I don’t fully buy the idea of applying a psychiatric diagnosis to any individual without any firsthand observation.

The first chapter of the book is available here, via the New York Times.

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