Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness

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“Though we cannot learn leadership, we can learn from leaders, which is why this volume is so engaging and valuable.”—Boston Globe
What made FDR a more successful leader during the Depression crisis than Hoover? Why was Eisenhower more effective as supreme commander at war than he was as president? Who was Pauli Murray and why was she a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement?
Find the answers to these questions and more in essays by great historians including Sean Wilentz, Alan Brinkley, Annette Gordon-Reed, Jean Strouse, Frances FitzGerald, and others. Entertaining and insightful individually, taken together the essays address the enduring ingredients of leadership, the focus of an introduction by Walter Isaacson.

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Editorial Reviews

“Incisive and shrewd, this eclectic collection offers rich food for thought for students of history and management alike.”
Publishers Weekly
In a thought-provoking book designed to reconsider the attributes of American leadership, Issacson (Einstein and His Universe), former managing editor of Time and now president of the Aspen Institute, has assembled a group of distinguished historians to address some seminal figures in terms of their vision, principles, flexibility, and pragmatism. Many of the contributors have first-rate résumés in scholarship, letters, and research, including Frances Fitzgerald, Sean Wilentz, Jean Strouse, and Robert Dallek. Quality writing, incisive analysis, and valuable revelations accompany each essay, whether it's Kevin Baker's take on the unpredictable baseball manager John Joseph McGraw, Evan Thomas's emotional deconstruction of Robert F. Kennedy, or Annette Gordon-Reed's perceptive measure of W.E.B. Du Bois. Three standout essays concern the moral and strategic strengths and weaknesses of Gen. George Washington; Joseph, chief of the Nez Perce Indians; and presidents Hoover and FDR. At a time when leadership is lacking, this memorable book culls examples from our past to reveal what makes a person stand above the rest. It's unfortunate that just one of the subjects--civil rights activist Pauli Murray--is a woman. 13 illus. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Isaacson (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life) introduces a welcome collection of new essays by both academics and popular wordsmiths on their choices for U.S. pacesetters as examples of leadership. Most of the subjects are white men who surmounted personal obstacles, although Native American Chief Joseph and African American civil rights pioneers W.E.B. DuBois and Pauli Murray are also included. Selections range from Giants baseball manager John J. McGraw (chosen by Kevin Baker), evangelist Charles Grandison Finney (Frances Fitzgerald), Wendell Willkie (David Levering Lewis), and J.P. Morgan (Jean Strouse) to such usual choices as General George Washington, FDR, General (not President) Eisenhower, and Ulysses S. Grant as a better than previously considered President. Isaacson maintains that astute leaders are not necessarily the most brilliant people but have the traits and skills to balance pragmatism with principle, listen to disparate opinions, and weld them, through effective communication, into working coalitions. Readers might want to compare these ideas with those on transformational leadership in James MacGregor Burns's Leadership. VERDICT Isaacson asserts that this collection is simply meant to be illustrative and thought-provoking. It succeeds in that and will meet the expectations of general history enthusiasts, while practitioners may prefer interpretive biographies.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress
Kirkus Reviews

Renowned historians describe the leadership secrets of presidents, generals, preachers, a baseball manager and others.

This bright anthology from the Society of American Historians gathers essays from top-flight historians—Sean Wilentz, David M. Kennedy, Jean Strouse, Alan Brinkley, David Levering Lewis, etc.—on the leadership skills of an array of Americans. As Isaacson (Einstein: His Life and Universe, 2007, etc.) notes in his introduction, a major theme is that the greatest challenge of leadership is knowing when to be pragmatic and when to adhere to principle, which is nicely illustrated by Brinkley's piece contrasting Herbert Hoover as "a victim of his convictions" and Franklin Roosevelt as the experimenter. Kevin Baker shows how the celebrated baseball manager John Joseph McGraw shined as a master clubhouse psychologist. Evan Thomas points to Robert Kennedy's insecurities as the source for his empathy for the downtrodden. David M. Kennedy finds that the ever-optimistic Dwight Eisenhower's ability to elicit cooperation served him well at war and in the White House. Two pieces stand out, both on lesser-known historical figures. Frances FitzGerald vividly evokes the life of Charles Finney, an upstate New York evangelist of the 1800s, whose emotional preaching upset the established clergy and inspired temperance, abolition and other major reform movements. In a wonderful essay on Pauli Murray, an early civil-rights champion, Glenda Gilmore shows how this remarkable African-American—feminist, lawyer, poet, ordained Episcopalian priest and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt—relied on persistence and self-invention to become a powerful opponent of Jim Crow. Other essays cover Ulysses S. Grant, J.P. Morgan, Joseph (Chief of the Nez Perce Indians), W.E.B. Dubois and Wendell Willkie. In an analysis of leadership failures, Robert Dallek explains why our optimism over new presidents invariably leads to disappointment as they craft poor policies and stumble over foreign crises.

Good bedside reading for history buffs.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393340761
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/17/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 331
  • Sales rank: 409,970
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson lives in Washington, DC, where he is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He is the author of acclaimed, best-selling biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      May 20, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      New Orleans, LA
    1. Education:
      Harvard, B.A. in History and Literature, 1974; Oxford (Rhodes Scholar), M.A. in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics

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