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Books, Journals, New Media
May 14, 2003


Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(18):2431-2432. doi:10.1001/jama.289.18.2431

In some respects, King of the Mountain can be considered a companion volume to the author's earlier The Price of Greatness: Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy. Both books report extensive statistical analyses of biographical data regarding hundreds of eminent 20th-century personalities. Earlier, the focus was creators, now, the focus is leaders. Both books attempt to document the costs associated with the attainment of eminence.

In the earlier work, Ludwig showed that there was a grain of truth to the mad-genius hypothesis. Greatness was positively associated with numerous psychiatric disorders. In the present work, he shows that high status as a nation's political leader is attained at a tremendous price. On the way to the top, the leader may have to endure imprisonment, assassination attempts, or exile. Even in democratic systems, leaders have to work their way up the political ladder, often having to overcome election defeats. Once they reach the top, the trials and tribulations continue, if not intensify—attacks from political opponents, fallings-out with former supporters, riots, revolts, rebellions, and assassination attempts. Indeed, a disproportionate percentage of world leaders die violently, whether by assassination, execution, or suicide. Given all these potential negatives, why would anyone want to become a head of state?

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