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

Walter Isaacson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.73
You Save: $5.27 (35%)
Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

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Book Description

What are the roots of creativity? What makes for great leadership? How do influential people end up rippling the surface of history?

In this collection of essays, Walter Isaacson reflects on the lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, and various other interesting characters he has chronicled as a biographer and journalist. The people he writes about have an awesome intelligence, in most cases, but that is not the secret of their success. They had qualities that were even more rare, such as imagination and true curiosity.

Isaacson reflects on how he became a writer, the lessons he learned from various people he met, and the challenges he sees for journalism in the digital age.

He also offers loving tributes to his hometown of New Orleans, which both before and after Hurricane Katrina offered many of the ingredients for a creative culture, and to the Louisiana novelist Walker Percy, who was an early mentor. In an anecdotal and personal way, Isaacson describes the joys of the "so-called writing life" and the way that tales about the lives of fascinating people can enlighten our own lives.

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: 1116 KB
  • Print Length: 308 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1439180644
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WVGED2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,627 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Observations on Leadership and Creativity 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
5.0 out of 5 stars What A Great Listen! 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless Vignettes on Key Contemporary & Historical Personalities
Walter Isaacson is a giant among the journalists, biographers, and creative thinkers of our generation. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Keith Wheelock
5.0 out of 5 stars "Catch" these "Sketches"
At age 56, I must confess, that I have never read TIME, and had no idea that Mr. Isaacson was once the editor. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dr.Stanley Toompas
5.0 out of 5 stars Walter Isaacson wrote this - need I say more?
I planned to read one sketch per night so I set the book on my bedside table. But these sketches are so interesting and involve so many modern day history makers. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Grex
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, but a little dated review of previous articles about...
As usual, I found the writing of Walter Isaacson fascinating and very well written. He always inserts some of himself into his writings. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Bruce Wolf
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read
Just a great read, this is a compilation of previous magazine articles, but he adds significant value with his introductions and set ups. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dean Allison
3.0 out of 5 stars Not What I expected from Isaacson
While Isaacson is an excellent writer, it appeared that Isaacson as an author went past the line of reporter objectivity in analyzing these leaders and their values
Published 11 months ago by Leo Benatar
4.0 out of 5 stars Isaacson in just a few pages!
I was impressed after reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, and a friend recommended his biography of Benjamin Franklin. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Howard Rothenbach
1.0 out of 5 stars In the vernacular of Steve Jobs, "this book is crap."
I bought this book after having read Isaacson's fantastic Steve Jobs biography, which was well written, moving, and impartial outside of its reverence of Jobs. Read more
Published 21 months ago by rb_keys
4.0 out of 5 stars One More from Our Popular Biographer
This book is a pleasant survey and recounting of some of our leading-light founders, statesman, politicians (Harry Truman said a statesman is a politician who's been dead 10... Read more
Published on May 24, 2012 by Allan Cox
2.0 out of 5 stars Fair to Middling
Isaacson is best writing about people of substance rather than passing judgement on their accomplishments. Read more
Published on January 5, 2012 by DAVID
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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.

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