By Jim Duffy — Illustration by Bob Conge
The Hypomanic Edge takes an anecdotal
approach. The historical figures that rank among Gartner's
hypomanic hall of fame exemplify this tendency to shoot for
the moon. One would think, for instance, that Columbus had
enough on his plate trying to find a westward passage to China.
But, as Gartner writes, Columbus actually embraced an even
grander mission. He thought his destiny would involve embodying
the Christian Second Coming and bringing on the Apocalypse.
Similarly, Andrew Carnegie could not go softly into retirement
after turning all of his astonishing corporate tricks. Instead,
he set out to employ his fortune to save the world from ignorance
"Once hypomanics lock their
sights on a goal, it's sort of like Michael Jordan driving
to the hoop," Gartner says. "They might fail, but
they're determined to go through any barrier. They're impelled
to throw the full force of their energy and drive toward a
goal. That's why people who accomplish great things are disproportionately
coming from this mindset."
So how does all this translate into
a national "hypomanic edge"? As the members of the
population most likely to chase bold entrepreneurial visions
and pursue grandiose political goals, hypomanics often come
to loom large in the national imagination. Even if only a
handful of their hypomanic dreams come true, those are the
stories that become models for school lessons and boardroom
behavior. Nowhere is this more obvious than on bookstore shelves
devoted to motivating an entrepreneurial audience of salespeople
"If you look for content in
a lot of these books, there really is no content, nothing
at all," Gartner says. "What they say is, "You
can do it!" It's all hypomanic grandiosity. Mood is infectious,
right? What they are doing is giving hypomania lessons."
While far from definitive in a scientific
sense, Gartner's book definitely packs a commonsensical punch.
Anyone who thumbs through it will likely find echoes of hypomanic
tendencies in an old boss or an old classmate — or in
themselves. Many hypomanics are completely unaware such a
"People have said to me that
after reading the book, they suddenly see hypomania everywhere,"
Gartner says. "I think I've managed to find something
big that was hiding in plain sight."
It's fun to play with Gartner's ideas
on a big-picture canvas. Might a hypomanic-heavy gene pool
have helped fuel America's stunningly speedy transformation
from wilderness colony to world hyperpower? Could hypomanic
recklessness explain how brilliant leaders like Alexander
Hamilton and Bill Clinton could engage in stunningly stupid
sexual escapades? Could hypomanic grandiosity lurk behind
the centuries-old conviction that the nation has a messianic
role to play in spreading freedom throughout the world?
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