Crazy Success
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 and poverty.

"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 and managers.

"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 condition exists.

"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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