In Sickness & In Power


Owen, David

31/03/2016 | Paperback |

ISBN: 9780413777690

About In Sickness & In Power


“It is a major contribution to historical and political understanding that no one else could have written. I found I utterly absorbing, sometimes unexpectedly moving, and often quite frightening.”
David Marquand, New Statesman

 “The book presents compelling evidence that the course of history has been changed again and again by the ill-health of world leaders.”
Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

 “With a measured restraint appropriate to his medical past, Owen shows that, at crucial moments in their political lives, Eden and Kennedy were both unfit to yield the power they possessed.”
David Marquand, New Statesman

 Political leaders' ill-conceived decisions are often connected to their own illness, claims David Owen in this revealing new book.

In Sickness and In Power looks at illness in heads of government between 1901 and 2007. It considers how illness and therapy – both physical and mental – affect the decision-making of heads of government, engendering folly, in the sense of foolishness, stupidity or rashness. Owen is particularly interested in leaders who were not ill in the conventional sense, whose cognitive faculties functioned well, but who developed a 'hubristic syndrome' that powerfully affected their performance and their actions. As we learn here, they suffer a loss of capacity and become excessively self-confident and contemptuous of advice that runs counter to what they believe, or sometimes 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 political leaders. Owen expertly scrutinises such diverse political personalities as Sir Anthony Eden at the time of Suez in 1956; John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961; the last Shah of Iran; and President Mitterrand of France who suffered from prostate cancer. The author also devotes a chapter to the hubristic behaviour and relationship between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. The book ends by outlining some of the safeguards that society needs to address as a consequence of illness in heads of government.

 'Owen treads where few have dared and the lessons he draws – especially regarding the policy consequences of intoxication with power and of aging – could not be more timely.'

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Advisor

 'Lord Owen's unique credentials as politician and physician make In Sickness and in Power an essential book for those of us interested in a deeper look at why leaders do what they do. It is an astonishing piece of work'  Richard Reeves, author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power

 'Owen has produced a compelling book'  Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

 'A fascinating book'  Stefan Stern, Financial Times

  'David Owen's fascinating book In Sickness and In Power...'

Michael Gove, The Times, August 2009

 'David Owen's fascinating In Sickness and in Power is a study of the medical conditions of rulers ranging from Anthony Eden to JFK and from the Shah of Persia to François Mitterrand. Which is more alarming: the fact that they all suffered from illnesses that would have debarred them from top-level positions in almost any other walk of life, or the systematic deception that concealed their true condition from the people they led? A book to give you sleepless nights.'

David Marquand, New Statesmen Books of the Year 2008


David Owen

David Owen (Lord Owen) trained and practised as a medical doctor before being elected a Labour MP in his home city of Plymouth. He served as Foreign Secretary under James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979. He co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and is now a Crossbencher in the Lords. Among many books, he is the author of In Sickness and In Power - Illness in Heads of Government during the last 100 years, The Hubris Syndrome, Balkan Odyssey, a powerful autobiography, Time to Declare, the updated edition of which was published as part of Politico's Great Statesmen Series in August 2009, and a poetry anthology, Seven Ages.

David Owen is the author of a number of books on political subjects including The Hubris Syndrome (Methuen) and In Sickness and In Power (Methuen), both in-depth studies of the health of leaders in governments and the impact of illness on their effectiveness in office. He served as a Labour Party Member of Parliament for twenty-six years during which time he was Health Minister (1974–76) under Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary (1976–79) under James Callaghan. He left the Labour Party when, under Michael Foot’s leadership, it lurched too far to the left. David Owen was one of the ‘Gang of Four’ to found the Social Democratic Party in 1983, which he led on two separate occasions. In 1992 David Owen was created a Life Peer and now sits as an independent social democrat in the House of Lords. Before entering Parliament, Lord Owen trained as a medical doctor at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, where he was Clinical Neurologist and Psychiatric Registrar. He has championed the NHS throughout its existence and is now a powerful advocate for its reinstatement to its original purpose.


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