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Courage: Eight Portraits [Hardcover]

Gordon Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

June 1, 2007 0747565325 978-0747565321
What is it that makes some men and women take difficult decisions and do the right thing against the odds when easier and far less dangerous alternatives are open to them? Why is it that some people - like the undercover heroes working for SOE in Occupied France or the passengers of the United 93 flight on 9/11 - have the courage to dare? To answer these questions, Gordon Brown explores the lives of eight outstanding twentieth-century figures. Starting with Edith Cavell, who nursed the wounded of World War I in Belgium and helped Allied soldiers escape back to England, he goes on to consider the Protestant pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in 1940 returned to Nazi Germany from New York to lead the Christian opposition against the Nazi regime, and the wealthy businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who left neutral Sweden in 1944 to go to Budapest to try save the lives of Hungarian Jews. All three paid the ultimate price. Telling the stories of America's Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy - who, after his brother's assassination, remade himself as a politician of compassion - and Nelson Mandela, he considers great courage over a long period against daunting odds. And then there is the legacy of Dame Cicely Saunders, who changed the way we care for the dying by founding and leading the Hospice Movement. Finally, he explores the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, who for twenty years, much of that time under house arrest in Rangoon, has led her country's democratic opposition to military dictatorship, and continues to do so today. These eight heroes are very different people, with very different strengths and frailties, but all share an inspirational courage that Gordon Brown celebrates in these fascinating and moving portraits.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British prime minister Brown profiles eight paragons in this warm, plainspoken volume of moral homiletics. Three of his subjects faced the 20th century's greatest test of courage, the Germans in the two world wars: Edith Cavell, an English nurse shot by the kaiser's troops for helping fugitive Allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was hanged after speaking out against Hitler; and Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from annihilation. Latter-day martyrs include Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and imprisoned Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Rounding out the roster are Robert Kennedy, saluted in part for his early embrace of a New Laboresque Third Way politics, and Cicely Saunders, who fought a callous medical establishment to found the hospice movement. Brown touches on personal idiosyncrasies—Bonhoeffer's soul-searching, Wallenberg's bravado, Kennedy's rivalry with his older brothers—to illuminate his subjects' actions, but dwells on the blunt fact of their readiness to act on principle regardless of safety. There's not much deep psychological insight, but what makes Brown's accounts inspiring, and occasionally moving, is precisely that his heroes' actions speak for themselves. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'This approach is refreshing and is honoured in the biographical essays, which are readable and intelligent ... That on Bonhoeffer is excellent' Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times 'very moving and completely uncynical' Philip Gould, Guardian 'We see a politician in a stable, democratic country looking with envious awe on those who live in more difficult times - the countries that need heroes' Anne McElvoy, Evening Standard

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury UK (June 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747565325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747565321
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,304,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Courage: Inner Strength Rising Up To the Occasion June 9, 2008
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown shares with his audience the life of eight men and women whose courage he deeply admires. These eight people are Edith Cavell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Cicely Saunders, and Aung San Suu Kyi. The emphasis on courage as a selection criterion is built on Winston Churchill's observation that courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others (p. 124).

Cavell, Bonhoeffer, Wallenberg, King, Jr., Kennedy, Mandela, Saunders, and Suu Kyi are what Frank Farley calls "sustained altruists" who devote long periods, sometimes their entire lives, to principled causes (p. 240). The other two types of courageous people that Farley identifies are "career heroes," say, emergency workers, police, and military, and "situational heroes," who courageously rise to the occasion as it demands, say, the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11. These three categories of courageous people are not mutually exclusive (pp. 239-40).

To his credit, Brown successfully shares his genuine admiration for these eight men and women with his readers. Brown points out that their courage exudes not only physical bravery, but also, and perhaps more importantly, strength of character and strength of beliefs (pp. 1, 35, 38, 64, 67, 72, 78, 85, 96, 106, 129, 139-40, 167, 210-11, 227). These eight men and women did not belong to a "predestined elite" that inevitably had to rise to greatness (pp. 8, 37, 66-70, 80, 92, 118, 123, 152, 183, 241-42, 244). Like the readers of "Courage," they had choices and options throughout their lives. These eight men and women chose action over inaction (pp. 11, 27, 41, 49, 59-61, 70, 92, 106, 126, 152, 186-89, 210).
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