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“People may choose to ignore their animal heritage by interpreting their behavior as divinely inspired, socially purposeful, or even self-serving, all of which they attribute to being human, but they masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps and apes do, so they should have little cause to get upset if they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too.”—from the book

King of the Mountain presents the startling findings of Arnold M. Ludwig’s eighteen-year investigation into why people want to rule. The answer may seem obvious—power, privilege, and perks—but any adequate answer also needs to explain why so many rulers cling to power even when they are miserable, trust nobody, feel besieged, and face almost certain death. Ludwig’s results suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. Profiling every ruler of a recognized country in the twentieth century—over 1,900 people in all—Ludwig establishes how rulers came to power, how they lost power, the dangers they faced, and the odds of their being assassinated, committing suicide, or dying a natural death. Then, concentrating on a smaller sub-set of 377 rulers for whom more extensive personal information was available, he compares six different kinds of leaders, examining their characteristics, their childhoods, and their mental stability or instability to identify the main predictors of later political success. Ludwig’s penetrating observations, though presented in a lighthearted and entertaining way, offer important insight into why humans have engaged in war throughout recorded history as well as suggesting how they might live together in peace.

The author measures each [leader] on an index of political greatness and explores the common predilection toward conflict and war. This book will serve readers at all levels. -- Choice

Every single page contains something striking and thought-provoking. -- Fortean Times

World politics is made by world leaders. These men (very few are women), who love to present themselves as having their people’s interests at heart, are driven by the same desire for power recognized by every primatologist as a universal alpha male characteristic. Based on nearly two thousand profiles of political leaders, King of the Mountain drives this point home as no other book before. -- Frans B. M. de Waal, author of Chimpanzee Politics

A unique and important contribution. . . . The insights and analyses have far-reaching consequences to all fields of human endeavor, especially to politics. . . . Clear, cogent, and at times laced with humor. -- George Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society

An enjoyable book. The statistical tables alone are worth the price. -- Journal of the American Medical Association

There is a richness to Ludwig’s approach that is very appealing. -- Leadership

A scholarly attempt to measure political leadership with the cool objectivity of science. -- New York Times

A thoroughly enjoyable read. . . . Ludwig's eye for an anecdote is a good one, and provides much pleasure. -- Nth Position

Well-written, engaging, insightful. . . . Ludwig’s book makes a bona fide contribution to the study of leadership. -- Rhetoric and Public Affairs

An arresting book that casts political science out the window and explains leadership through comparisons with chimpanzees, baboons, and gorillas. -- Washington Post Book World

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Political leadership, Politicians, Psychology


American Politics

King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership
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