Has anybody written or done psychological profile of famous leaders , past or present, dead or alive , indepth or superficial? ?
August 3, 2006 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Has anybody written or done psychological profile of famous leaders , past or present, dead or alive , indepth or superficial ?

For example ---- and this is a bad example because the subject , George W Bush, is an open book and very predictable and not a complex human being at all ----- I know of the following book:
"Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President" by Justin A Frank ----- a book on George W Bush

Any others?

In particular I am interested in very complex AND famous leaders such as George Washington, whom despite his very serious shortcomings became a popular American President . Looks to me his success was due to him being at the right place at the right time rather than anything else.

George Washington is a great example because:
He coveted his neighbor's wife.
He seemed to marry for money.
He was more concerned with form rather than substance; in keeping up with the Joneses ; in seeking ranks and titles and status, starting with seeking a commission in the British army.
He was insecure, always wondering if there was a better man out there who can do his job.
He lacked integrity and honesty in amassing land and wealth, at the expense of the soldiers who served under him.
A loser , in short. Not somebody I would want my daugther to marry.

So do you know of any psychological profile of any complex and famous leader, including George Washington ?

Thank you very much.
posted by studentguru to Education (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
US Army did one on Hitler; I'm sure CIA did a whole bunch of leaders post-WW2.
posted by orthogonality at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2006

I'm not entirely sure about books, but I know there's been a lot of research done on Abraham Lincoln. Researchers have found that he suffered from depression, disturbing dreams, etc.

The History Channel showed a special on him a few months back, so I'm sure there are at least a few books on the subject floating around.
posted by thewhitenoise at 2:18 PM on August 3, 2006

Presidential scholar David Barber wrote this book concerning presidential character. It is a study of several presidents using some aspects of psychological analysis.
posted by pasici at 2:22 PM on August 3, 2006

This is a major part of the practice of psychohistory.

Looking at my bookshelf (I'm currently researching colonial New York, sorry):
Alice Maplesden Keyes, Cadwallader Colden: A Representative Eighteenth Century Official. This is an old book and may be hard to find. Colden, though you've probably never heard of him, was the most important figure in the colonial history of New York, period. He was also basically the only person doing science in the colonial period in New York (he and Ben Franklin were pen pals, even though Colden was a dedicated Tory), and one of the very few that did philosophy. It's easy enough to find some of his letters, where he records stumbling around the world of eighteenth-century academia (see if there's an edition of the New-York Historical Society Collections anywhere). Keyes's book is an interesting look at his motivations, especially the conflict between his ambition and his desire for a quiet life spent doing research. It's a good intro to colonial NY history, a neglected but fascinating field.

John Jay, who was the first justice of the Supreme Court, was also a fascinating figure. There's an excellent edition of his letters called Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, which gives great insight into his thinking. He was a gifted cynical and witty writer:
When people in the city write to their friends in the country, I know, it is expected that their letters should contain the news of the town. For my part, I make it a rule never to frustrate the expectations of my correspondents in this particular, if I can help it; and that as much for my own sake as theirs: for it not only saves one's invention a good deal of fatigue, but fills up blank paper very agreeably. Things remain here, if I may speak in your own language, pretty much in statu quo. Some, with reluctance, shuffling off this mortal coil; and others solacing themselves in the arms of mortality. The ways of men, you know, are as circular as the orbit through which our planet moves, and the centre to which they gravitate is self: round this we move in mystic measure, dancing to every tune that is loudest played by heaven or hell. Some, indeed, that happen to be jostled out of place, may fly off in tangents like wandering stars, and either lose themselves in a trackless void, or find another way to happiness; but for the most part, we continue to frolic till we are out of breath; then the music ceases, and we fall asleep. (Jay, aged 21, to Benjamin Kissam, August 12, 1766)
Sorry I didn't answer your question...
posted by nasreddin at 2:26 PM on August 3, 2006

The CIA supposedly has an entire department, referred to in several novels as "the Office of Sluts And Nuts", which does precisely this.
posted by baylink at 3:31 PM on August 3, 2006

Psychology Today dedicated an issue to Nixon. I think it was in the '60s or '70s, and it was very controversial.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:33 PM on August 3, 2006

David Barber's book that pasici mentioned is the most comprehensive. There is also "The Presidential Difference" by Fred Greenstein.

I actually took a course in college specifically on political psychology of US presidents. It was fascinating. The whole realm of political psychology might be worth looking into. There are academic journals on it that you can find.
posted by BradNelson at 9:51 PM on August 3, 2006

I'm not entirely sure about books, but I know there's been a lot of research done on Abraham Lincoln.

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin covers this some. The Atlantic Monthly did a cover story on Lincoln's depression in Oct 2005.
posted by BradNelson at 9:55 PM on August 3, 2006

Probably the most famous example of something like this is Young Man Luther by Erik H. Erikson.
posted by j-dawg at 10:31 PM on August 3, 2006

I found this article talking about a book by Stanley Renshon called "High Hopes" talking about the similarity in character between Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. I have no idea how good it is.
posted by studentguru at 11:12 PM on August 3, 2006

Sorry, I forgot to mention that the article about Stanley Renshon is at


References: Clinton & Nixon: Twins under the skin?
Reports on US President Bill Clinton's psychological similarity to former President Richard Nixon. Opinion of psychoanalyst and political scientist Stanley Renshon in his book 'High Hopes'; Emotional circumstances surrounding both presidents' growing up years; Remarkable resiliency; Little personal satisfaction from successes.
By:Peter Doskoch
Publication: Psychology Today
Publication Date: Sep/Oct 96
(Document ID: 1037)
posted by studentguru at 4:29 AM on August 4, 2006

Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler, 1943. Written by Dr. Henry Murray for the the OSS.
posted by stammer at 5:45 AM on August 4, 2006

The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders: With Profiles of Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton by Jerrold Post seems to cover a number of leaders.

No Washington though.
posted by Julnyes at 10:49 AM on August 4, 2006

About Thomas Jefferson, I have found the following book that might be interesting. But be careful of the author. He is known to lie about his non existent Vietnam tour of duty. The author also reputedly has garnered top prizes for his ability to explain actions of the various Founding Fathers in his other books

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (Hardcover)
by Joseph J. Ellis


---- "Were Ellis' critiques of the personalities of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Washington subject to the same sorts of flaws? Did his flair for stretching the truth seep into his work?...... Ellis' has garnered top prizes for his ability to explain actions of the various Founding Fathers -- he won the Pulitzer for his "Founding Brothers" group portrait, the National Book Award for "American Sphinx" on Jefferson. But Ellis' ability to explain the actions of others is not paralleled by a similar ability to explain his own actions."
posted by studentguru at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2006

Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
posted by davemack at 12:50 PM on August 4, 2006

Not on a political leaders, but definitely leaders in their fields:

Strategies of Genius, Volume 1
Aristotle, Disney, Sherlock Holmes (not a real person, but an interesting section in it's own right), Mozart

Strategies of Genius, Volume 2

Strategies of Genius, Volume 3
Freud, Tesla, Ford
posted by bigmusic at 9:34 PM on August 6, 2006

About Lyndon Johnson. The most intense politician in the last century in USA.

You get a pretty good idea about the insecurities and intensity of this fellow.

From PBS "American Experience"


If you can't get the videos, read the transcript available on that website .

Here are the credits about the videos if you are interested:

LBJ [videorecording] / a KERA production in association with David Grubin Productions, Inc. ; written and produced by David Grubin ; WGBH Educational Foundation and WNET/Thirteen.
Publication info. [Alexandria, Va.] : PBS Home Video ; Burbank, Calif. : Distributed by Warner Home Video, 1997, c1991.
posted by studentguru at 2:52 PM on August 14, 2006

« Older What do Stay at Home mom's need?   |   Cairo Church Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.