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American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane Kindle Edition

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Length: 308 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Conventional wisdom is stoutly defended in this staid collection of essays, mostly culled from the author's newspaper and magazine articles. Isaacson (Einstein) has a knack for finding the middle ground and the incontestable truism in any topic. Thus, Benjamin Franklin's life shows us that “democracy requires pragmatic people who can find common ground,” but also know when “to take a stand.” Colin Powell is “an exemplar of the balance” between realism and idealism that foreign policy demands. A piece on Time cofounder Henry Luce extols “common sense” over “knee-jerk ideological faiths.” (The one extremist the author wholeheartedly supports is Albert Einstein, a “rebel” against received notions of time and space, who receives several glowing hosannas.) Isaacson also mines a vein of cautious and sometimes dated business futurism—the collection includes breathless profiles of moguls Bill Gates and Andrew Grove—that yields such banal prognostications as “Among the few things certain about the [21st] century are that it will be wired, networked and global.” It's hard to argue with Isaacson's pronouncements—and harder still to stay awake for them. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A compelling, highly readable collection of fresh perspectives on some of the most significant names in American history.” –Kirkus

Product Details

  • File Size: 2686 KB
  • Print Length: 308 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1439180644
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 14, 2009)
  • Publication Date: November 24, 2009
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WVGED2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,865 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In a career that has spanned more than a generation and has taken him from his early days as a city hall beat reporter in his native New Orleans to the pinnacle of American journalism as managing editor of Time magazine and then Chairman and CEO of CNN, Walter Isaacson has occupied a unique vantage point from which to observe this period of American history. Along the way, he has found time to produce critically-praised and popular biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Now in AMERICAN SKETCHES, Isaacson collects some 40 examples of his writing, from personal essays to reviews to pieces culled from Time that, taken together, construct a revealing mosaic of what might be described as modern American liberalism.

Anything but a dewy-eyed idealist (he jokes that his fellow liberals "are congenitally more comfortable humming the theme of All Things Considered than the theme of Crossfire"), Isaacson is insistent that liberal values, such as the free exchange of ideas, pluralism and rational, evidence-based decision making, are crucial to America's well-being. Above all, he concludes that "the need to calibrate a proper balance among opposing principles is evident in every issue we face today, from abortion to health-care reform to affirmative action."

A sizable cross section of the book is devoted to writings on his three biographical subjects, each subtly disclosing a different aspect of this worldview. He lauds Benjamin Franklin as a paragon of the American virtue of compromise, even going so far as to find a healthy dose of that quality embodied in our current president.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By charles peterson on January 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Walter Isaacson is a gifted writer with an excellent worldview. His biographies of Franklin and Einstein are among my favorite books.

This book is a collection of first rate essays and articles covering an array of American political and creative leaders as well as some thoughts on journalism and its future. The essays were written over a span of several decades, so in addition to the actual essays, each contains a foreword by the author to put it into current perspective.

All of the essays are good, but some are more interesting than others. Isaacson is clearly infatuated with Einstein, so Einstein gets more than his share of coverage in this collection. Very interesting and deserving material though.

My favorite was the piece on Bill Gates. Longer than most, it gives the reader a real feel for who Gates is and how he is wired. The essay addresses his many incredible strengths as well as some of his flaws. The eulogy for George Plimpton was also especially good.

I was particularly interested in the book's introduction in which the author explains his own background and how he got from New Orleans to Harvard to the editorship of Time and Chairmanship of CNN. Good stuff!!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Boone Chu on November 25, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Cotter Smith brings these unabridged Walter Isaacson essays to life. Ronald Reagan, Ben Franklin, Bill Gates,Woody Allen, Henry Kissinger, Clintons, Mikhail Gorbachev, and of course Albert Einstein (his pick for person of the century for surprising reasons!). It would be a great audiobook for just these essays. But Isaacson takes us through his journalistic journey from small town reporter to CEO of CNN and managing editor of Time magazine. What a wonderful trek through the current history of America and his final thoughts on where journalism and the internet intersect will make you pause and reflect. This is a perfect "around town" audiobook as each essay and reflection is in very manageable listening chapters (but you definitely will want more of each). My audiobook listening "posse" will be craving this puppy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Tucker VINE VOICE on January 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Not knowing much about this book but having read Walter Isaacon's marvelous biography of Benjamin Franklin, I purchased this out of interest in the topic: American leadership and historical events. American Sketches is a kind of tapestry of successful people, their lives, their contributions, their idiosyncrasies, and their role in shaping our country and our culture. Told in a series of journalistic style essays, the book has a simmering energy and grace that makes each chapter both independent and connected to an overriding theme of optimism, progress, and tolerance.

The people he examines include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Clinton, John Adams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, George Plimpton, and many others. Asides about Walker Percy, Gorbachev, Henry Grunwald, and different political figures add to an already fascinating book, a book that demonstrates the power of American ingenuity, tenacity, and intellect. Each essay contains a pearl of wisdom blended with great perception and historical information on the person being discussed. This makes for a reading experience that feels like relaxed story-telling but is inadvertently and vastly educational. Since it is all factual and biographical, American Sketches is a study in personal excellence, charisma, and individual charm. As the book comes to a close, we read an inspiring series of articles on Louisiana and its commitment to overcoming the tragedy of Katrina. One of most entertaining chapters is the transcript of the Woody Allen interview.

The writing style is journalistic by experienced editor and author Walter Isaacson, a master of the genre and an ideal choice for a book of this type.
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