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Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership Paperback – May 9, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg) looks at the relationship between known leaders and their followers while exploring factors that help foster successful leadership.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA-Students will find food for thought in this volume of essays that attempts to compare and contrast styles of leadership by pairing successful leaders with antitypes. For instance, electoral giant Franklin Roosevelt is paired with Adlai Stevenson; Napoleon with George McClellan (military); Martin Luther King, Jr. with Robert Parris Moses (rhetorical). In every instance, consideration of the interests of followers and the ability to identify with them are deemed vital to the person's success. Roosevelt's experience with polio, for instance, allowed him to empathize with the struggles of ordinary citizens during the Depression. Stevenson, on the other hand, was aloof from the people, expecting his ideas to be enough to garner a following. In some instances, the pairs stretch the credibility of Wills's theory, and readers should be warned that the book is limited in biographical scope. Its narrow focus, however, brilliantly underscores its message.
Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 9, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684801388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684801384
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Greg L. Thomas on February 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Wills has a keen sense of the importance of followers to leadership. In the introduction to the book he states plainly "The leader most needs followers". He goes on to explain that in reality followers "have a say" in what they are led toward! The theme of Certain Trumpets is that a successful leader doesn't just trumpet or sound their own certain message, but instead they sound a specific call to others capable of following. He believes that leaders need to understand their followers more than followers need to understand them! What is Garry Wills basic definition of a leader? "One who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers". In other words, coercion of others is not leadership, it is just power.

With this introduction in mind the rest of the book consists of Wills discussion of individuals who have possessed leadership in various ways. The author believes that different leaders should be considered notable because of their own goals rather than their personalities, which is the most common perspective. As a result of this perspective, Wills does not treat leadership as a single thing, but mentions sixteen various kinds of leadership within the book. He also goes on to discuss various subdivisions within the sixteen kind's. Certain Trumpets attempts to define these distinctive types of leadership by using examples that range from Franklin Roosevelt (Electoral Leadership) to Dorothy Day (Saintly Leadership). To make this exploration interesting, and to provoke thought, he also provides an antitype character in contrast to each distinctive type of leader presented. It is Wills hope to exemplify the individual's characteristics by providing this contrast. Wills doesn't think we lack leaders today, but sufficient followers. He refers to this as the "real problem with leadership". Certain Trumpets is easy to read, stimulating and creative enough to look at leadership from a different lens.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tonyvoice on June 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
I used Garry Wills' book, "Certain Trumpets" for humanities students in a senior seminar. I was urged to use a text that takes more of a "how to" or "elements of leadership" approach by others who teach "Leadership" at the school, but decided, because these were advanced students from diverse educational backgrounds, to use something that did not take a paint-by-numbers approach by spoonfeeding obvious conclusions. (Ironically, one colleague specifically urged me not to use Wills' book -- too messy, too difficult for students to make the leap from the disconnected narratives to the major issues that face leaders).

The decision to use "Certain Trumpets" turned out to be most fortuitous. I was, to be honest, astonished by the enthusiasm with which the class embraced the book and by the depth of thought that it inspired. This class took place concurrent with Barak Obama's first year as president, and the students made parallels between events in the news and the reading with great alacrity and insight. Students who, previous to this, had expressed an aversion to political discussion became obsessed with it. They wrote journal entries in which they compared Harriet Tubman or Napoleon to contemporary leaders. They discovered historical figures on their own, exploring people as far-ranging as Aristotle, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Catharine the Great -- none of whom is even in the book!

What they seemed to appreciate most about Wills' book is that his observations about the people he includes are not platitudinous,and each chapter provoked further discussion. Students enjoyed learning about important figures whose names were unfamiliar -- Andrew Young and Adlai Stevenson come to mind.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By liechtyd@pilot.msu.edu on June 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As Wills notes, "tell me your admired leaders, and you have bared your soul." Wills has bared his and while I might choose others, his descriptions of each type of leader give me something on to which to hang my own leadership research. This is a helpful piece of research. If one is able to see that we are all subjective in our approaches to and understanding of leadership, there is a great deal to learn here.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By MountainMuse on July 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book intending to read only a couple of chapters. I ended up reading the entire book with fascination. This is the kind of book that makes one think, reflect, and re-evaluate simplistic cultural paradigms. Those who confuse leaders with super heroes or think leadership has to do with wielding power to combat evil would benefit from reading this book. Wills does an excellent job of recognizing that people with a lot of influence or power are not necessarily leaders. I found this relavant to today's shortage of positive leaders.

Although each chapter cannot delve into the representative leader in great depth, each chapter does an excellent job of distinguishing between different types of leadership. The introduction, the conclusion, the notes, and the many citings of other books on leadership added to my learning. This very readable book provides an excellent sense of history and places leadership within the context of history. This is a pleasant change from the endless books on leadership and business.

My only complaint would be the lack of attention to the influence of media on today's leaders and followers.
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