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In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years [Hardcover]

David Owen
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 10 April 2008 --  
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Book Description

10 April 2008
'In Sickness and in Power' is a unique study of illness in heads of government between 1901 and 2007. It considers how illness and therapy - both physical and mental - affect the process of government and decision-making, leading to acts of folly, in the sense of stupidity or rashness. The author is particularly interested in leaders who were not ill in the conventional sense, and whose cognitive faculties functioned well, but who developed what he calls a `hubris syndrome', which powerfully affected their performance and their actions. Such leaders suffer a loss of capacity and become excessively self-confident and contemptuous of advice that runs counter to what they believe, or even of any advice at all.

Long fascinated with the inter-relationship between politics and medicine, David Owen uses his deep knowledge of both to look at sickness in a wide variety of world political leaders. Within this, he devotes particular attention to four examples:
* Sir Anthony Eden at the time of Suez in 1956
* John F. Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1961 and his meeting with Nikita Khrushchev
* The last Shah of Iran and President François Mitterrand, and the extent to which they covered up their state of health
* The relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and their shared hubris syndrome, which also affected David Lloyd George and Margaret Thatcher.

The book ends by outlining some of the safeguards that society needs to address as a consequence of illness in heads of government.

'In Sickness and in Power' sheds new light on familiar faces and events. It is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in history or medicine.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd (10 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041377662X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413776624
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A fascinating book. -- Stefan Stern, Financial Times

A major contribution to historical and political understanding that no one else could have written.
-- David Marquand, New Statesman, 2 June 2008

A must-read for physicians, politicians and behavioral scientists. It reads like a novel and yet puts forth fresh insights and timely perspectives. -- Thomas H. Kirschbaum, MD

A perfectly delectable book. -- Edward Pearce, Tribune, 16 May 2008

Owen has produced a compelling book. -- Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

Owen treads where few have dared and the lessons he draws could not be more timely.
-- Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Advisor


"major contribution to historical and political understanding that no one else could have written - utterly absorbing" David Marquand --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating if a trifle undecided 15 Jan 2009
A fascinating if bitty summary of the health problems which beset a selection of the C20th world leaders. Given that the writer is both a distinguished political figure and a neurological specialist, his comments are particularly interesting,although I did wonder at times whether it was the doctor or the politician who was speaking. I suspect that this may have occured to Dr Owens which might explain the lengthy introduction establishing his credentials as a neurologist. Some of the revelations are fascinating and downright alarming - I agree with the earlier reviewer who picks out the health of JFK and its effect on his handling of both the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crises as one of the best examples. Quite why he goes on to decry the ideas put forward in the final chapter as "liberal" puzzzles me - would he prefer them to be "illiberal"? I would use impractical or utopian.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely thought provoking 4 Oct 2008
By Lucy B
Immensely insightful, and with thought provoking ideas about the way in which a person's medical condition affects their 'day job' as a political figure. Sounds like a heavy, worthy topic but is actually very readable. All backed up with lots of research and appealing 'insider' knowledge - obtained via the author's medical or political careers.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Hotchpotch of Different Themes 26 May 2008
By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Although an attractively presented book on a potentially interesting subject the content and style are disappointing. Dr Owen starts with a section devoted to the illness of various world leaders over the last 100 years. These vary greatly in interest and relevance to Owen's emerging theme of the need for greater clarity over the health of leaders or potential leaders. There follows four 'case histories' reviewing the health of Eden, Kennedy, the Shah of Iran and Mitterrand and whether or not it had an adverse effect upon important decisions each leader made. By far the most interesting section, and that part of the book that really springs to life, is the question of the health of President Kennedy and how this may have influenced his disastrous escapade over the 'Bay of Pigs'. Owen suggests that at the time of Kennedy's successful handling of the 'Cuban Missile Crisis' his serious illnesses were under good medical control hence the assured responses.
There then follows a passage on Owen's hypothesis of a 'hubris syndrome' with particular relevance to Bush, Blair and the Iraq War. In many respects this is a completely different topic to the physical and mental health of leaders and gives the book a distinct 'cobbled together' feel whereas two shorter works may have been more appropriate. This feeling is reinforced by the 'hotchpotch' of items in the initial section referred to above.
The book concludes with a number of foolish pseudo-liberal suggestions regarding medical screening of leaders, the right of UN intervention in the internal affairs of countries and Owen's continuing support for regime change despite the Iraq fiasco.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ground-breaking book 28 April 2008
A ground-breaking book that opens the door to a new area of political economy. David Owen's background as a medical doctor and a leading political figure of our times gives a unique voice to this subject. It deserves to become a standard text in its field.

The extent to which illness can affect our leaders should be a concern to us all. Worse, the tendency of some leaders to become prone to behavioural inconsistencies the longer they hold office is developed by the author into a fascinating 'hubris syndrome' with its attendant personality symptoms and modern examples.

This book should resonate with electors and provide cause for reflection by those who seek or hold high office.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 21 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Outstanding factual. Read. The facts are quite frightening. Decisions that could have or maybe did change the world. I recomend
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