Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle

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A galaxy of legendary figures from the annals of Western history comes to life in this stirring sequel to Intellectuals and Creators.

In this enlightening, entertaining work, Paul Johnson continues his engaging history series, approaching the subject of heroism with stirring examples of men and women from every age, walk of life and corner of the world who have inspired and transformed not only their own ...

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A galaxy of legendary figures from the annals of Western history comes to life in this stirring sequel to Intellectuals and Creators.

In this enlightening, entertaining work, Paul Johnson continues his engaging history series, approaching the subject of heroism with stirring examples of men and women from every age, walk of life and corner of the world who have inspired and transformed not only their own cultures but the whole world as well.

Heroes includes

Samson, Judith and Deborah Alexander and julius Caesar Henry V and Joan of Arc Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots Elizabeth I and Walter Ralegh George Washington, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson Emily Dickinson Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle Mae West and Marilyn Monroe Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Lourie
Many readers will find some favorite historical figure oddly omitted. Personally, I miss Christ and Trotsky. But, at its best, this book brings to life such leaders as George Washington and Admiral Nelson, who have become so iconic as to be without feature or flavor…It is Johnson's gift that he can make his subjects human and fallible enough that we would, indeed, recognize them instantly, while also illuminating what made them heroes. If the rich are different because they have money, heroes are different because they have courage.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Veteran journalist and historian Johnson (Modern Times; A History of the Jews) offers 30 brief profiles of "heroes." Unfortunately, he offers a vague, tautological definition: "anyone is a hero who has been widely, persistently, over long periods, and enthusiastically regarded as heroic...." Yet Johnson's choice of subjects is highly idiosyncratic; Mae West and Marilyn Monroe are included, but not Gandhi, Mandela or Sakharov, not to mention scientists, entrepreneurs and athletes. Johnson, who is prone toward his fellow Brits, even includes a chapter on "the heroism of the hostess," including the mid-20th-century London hostess Lady Pamela Berry, whom he seems to have known well and portrays as having admirable interpersonal skills. His book contains fascinating facts and insights; for example, Johnson calls the biblical Samson "the first suicide-martyr-mass killer" and we learn that the austere philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had studied engineering, invented a helicopter part "which later became standard." Still, Johnson profiles no one in depth. The conservative author also cites as a personal hero the late Chilean dictator Pinochet, whom Johnson credits with saving his country from communism and was then "demonized" by the Soviet Union. Though informative and entertaining, this is not one of Johnson's better efforts. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Prolific historian Johnson (Modern Times) returns to his idiosyncratic series, which includes Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomskyand Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney. His anecdotal essays portray his heroes in complementary groupings (e.g., Washington, Nelson, and Wellington). His subjects range widely from the obligatory (e.g., Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Lincoln) to the far-fetched (Mae West, hostess Lady Pamela Berry). Johnson frequently enlivens his witty, well-researched pages with chatty accounts of personal encounters with people as diverse as Princess Diana and Shelley Winters. The book loses some steam as it closes in on the present day. The politically conservative author makes the questionable choice of concluding his fabulous parade of heroes with a tendentious trio yet to experience any kind of true test of time as "heroes": Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and John Paul II. The book will be enjoyed more by those looking for sophisticated entertainment than anybody wanting a thorough analysis of what makes a hero-although Johnson clearly believes "courage" is a leading qualifier. For readers of popular literature in public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ8/07.]
—Stewart Desmond

Kirkus Reviews
In a companion volume to Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney (2006), prolific English historian Johnson offers a highly idiosyncratic selection of his favorite extraordinary mortals, male and female. The conservative world view evident in works like Intellectuals (1989) was slightly muffled in Creators, but it's back with all flags flying here, especially in a bizarrely reactionary final chapter on the "heroic trinity" of Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. (Not that the incongruous essay that precedes it, "Heroism Behind the Greasepaint: Mae West and Marilyn Monroe," is much more enlightened.) Safely dead for millennia, Alexander the Great and Caesar are less surprising choices, though their ruthless quest of vast empires and boundless self-ambition gives Johnson some pause. Churchill, naturally, wins a solid place as a "generous hero," while de Gaulle is grudgingly included as "a heroic monster." The Hebrews "made full use of the brains and courage of their women," declares Johnson in a chapter on the biblical feats of Deborah, Judith, Samson and David. Though the author believes that "when performed by women [heroism's] element of hate and inhumanity appears particularly savage, he nonetheless lists British Queen Boudica, who led a surprisingly successful revolt against Roman rule in 60-61 A.D. Medieval nationalist figures Joan of Arc and Henry V are cited, along with the predicable pantheon of Elizabethan heroes honed "in the age of the axe." Superhumans fashioned "in the roar of the cannon's mouth" (Washington, Nelson and Wellington) are followed by Civil War leaders Lincoln and Lee. Johnson offers some terrific choices in Jane Welsh Carlyle, stuck in a torturousmarriage, and reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, whose life was a "successful struggle against fear." Wittgenstein warrants a long, tedious chapter, though the author perks up while discussing famous hostesses throughout history. The author's vast stores of scholarship and reading keep this jaunty trek from becoming corny.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641881404
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/27/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges over the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He regularly writes book reviews for several UK magazines and newspapers, such as the Literary Review and The Spectator, and he lectures around the world. He lives in London, England.

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Read an Excerpt

From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle

Chapter One

God's Heroes: Deborah, Judith, Samson and David

No people in history were more in need of heroes than the Hebrews. Cast in their role, by events, as "strangers and sojourners," they came originally in the time of Abraham, deep in the second millennium BC, from what is now southern Iraq, and entered recorded history between 1450 and 1250 BC. They were a slave people, without country and possessions, with little art or technology and no skill or record in warfare. They were subjects of the Egyptians, the greatest power of the Bronze Age, and woefully oppressed. They were not numerous either. It is one of the miracles of the human story that this tiny people, instead of disappearing into oblivion through the yawning cracks of history, as did thousands of other tribal groups—and even scores of famous nations—should still be in self-conscious existence today, an important piece on the great world chessboard, recognizably the same entity as nearly four thousand years ago.

Yet history has no miracles: only causes and consequences. And the reasons the Hebrews survived are that they had a god, a sole god, whom they worshipped with unique intensity and exclusiveness; and they had their own language, first oral then written, in which they recorded his favor and protection. They were weak in the physics of survival, strong in the metaphysics. They were first henotheists, with their sole god, Yahweh, as the divine ruler of their tribal confederation (what the Greeks called an amphictyony); then, during theirEgyptian sojourn, they elevated their religious system into monotheism, Yahweh becoming sole god of the universe and all its peoples. This belief, which made them unique in antiquity, emerged under the first of their heroes, Moses, who took them out of Egyptian slavery and into independent nationhood. He gave them, in writing, their first code of divine laws, and led them, through forty years of tribulations and testing, to the edge of the land, "flowing with milk and honey," which Yahweh had promised them. Moses made full use too of their second great gift, their language. Hebrew was not only sinewy, expressive and resourceful, but peculiarly adapted to the recording of history. It was Moses, according to rabbinical tradition, who set down the first five books of the Hebrew national epic, the Pentateuch, the opening section of what became known as the Bible, to Christians the Old Testament. On this foundation the Bible accumulated over the generations, as the canonical record of Hebrew history, in time, "the most famous book in the history of the world," "the book," as its name implies. Moses and his doings continued to dominate it. He is mentioned 767 times in the Old Testament and 79 times even in the New Testament, the Christian title deeds. No other hero of antiquity, at any other period or from any other region, has this degree of heroic celebrity.

Moses having created, as it were, the matrix of heroism, Hebrew records arranged the continuing story of the people and heroic figures. The Book of Joshua, conservatively dated from between 1375 BC and 1045 BC, tells how the Promised Land was conquered and settled. According to the Talmud, the Jewish record of oral teaching compiled from 400 BC to AD 500, Joshua, the Hebrew general, as well as being the hero of the book, was also its author, except for a coda recording his burial. The next biblical book, Judges, is the key work in Hebrew heroism, however. It was written late in the first millennium BC, after Joshua, and supposedly, according to the Talmud, by the Prophet Samuel. By rights it should be called the Book of Heroes, for most of its celebrities were not judges but fighters, who enabled the Hebrews, or Israelites as they began to be called, to survive as a recognizable, independent people during extremely difficult times.

The last centuries of the second millennium BC, the chronological junction between the Bronze Age and the new Iron Age, witnessed one of the greatest convulsions of antiquity, involving the whole of the eastern Mediterranean and its shores and much of western Asia—huge conquests and tribal movements, invasions and dispossessions, massacres and genocides and great minglings and fusions of peoples. The destruction of Mycenaean Greece and Crete, the events reflected in Homer's later (eighth century BC) recounting of the Trojan War, the near-disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt and the movement of the Hebrews themselves into Palestine are all part of this reshuffling of the cards of history, the biggest upheaval until Alexander the Great broke up the Persian Empire and replaced it with the Hellenistic world.

The literary and archeological evidence of these massive but obscure events is fragmentary, and the picture historians have been able to build up is confused, and likely to remain so. No wonder, then, that the Book of Judges, recording part of the turmoil in a small area of the scene of convulsion, from a Hebrew viewpoint, is a confused and confusing document also. It claims to record the deeds of a dozen "judges," or tribal heroes, called Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah (and her general Barak), Gideon, Tola, Jain, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samson. But, though they are presented in chronological order, it may be that some were contemporaries. Their importance varied greatly. Several were obscure leaders of a single tribe. Others were national figures. The enemy too varied. At the beginning of the book, the enemy seems to be the original inhabitants of the Promised Land, the Canaanites. But no scholar has been able to settle the origins of this term, and it may be that it signified no more than the collective expression for a mass of small kingdoms and amphictyonies, living in Syria and Palestine: the Jebusites and Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arradites, Zemarites, Hamathites and others. The term may mean "lowly" or "low born," and be abusive. One of the earliest references to Canaanites occurs in a clay . . .

From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle
. Copyright © by Paul Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is a Hero?

1 God's Heroes: Deborah, Judith, Samson and David 1

2 Earthshakers: Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar 27

3 Feminist Fire and Slaughter: Boudica 49

4 Exemplary Heroes: Henry V and Joan of Arc 56

5 Heroism in the Age of the Axe: St. Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Ralegh 76

6 In the Roar of the Cannon's Mouth: Washington, Nelson and Wellington 112

7 Tortured Heroism in a Man's World: Jane Welsh Carlyle and Emily Dickinson 143

8 Two Kinds of Nobility: Lincoln and Lee 165

9 Cerebral Heroism: Ludwig Wittgenstein 180

10 The Heroism of the Hostess: Lady Pamela Berry et al. 199

11 A Generous Hero and a Heroic Monster: Churchill and de Gaulle 215

12 Heroism Behind the Greasepaint: Mae West and Marilyn Monroe 234

13 The Heroic Trinity Who Tamed the Bear: Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II 253

Epilogue:Any Future for Heroism? 275

Notes on Further Reading 281

Index 285

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