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Duty First: West Point and the Making of American Leaders Hardcover – January 23, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

West Point isn't just a military academy, writes Ed Ruggero--it's "America's premier leadership school." Or at least it's one of them. Ruggero, a graduate and former faculty member who now specializes in leadership training, went back to his old school for an entire year to figure out how West Point builds leaders. "If the successes of its graduates are any indicator, the Academy's approach offers a template for leader development in and out of the military," he writes. And so Ruggero profiles a cross section of West Pointers, from first-year cadets enduring difficult initiation rites to the school's superintendent overseeing the whole process. Duty First prefers showing to telling: there are more stories and anecdotes on its pages than analysis and discussion. It doesn't offer very many clear-cut lessons that, say, business executives might apply to their own leadership dilemmas. The book is primarily about West Point culture, and Ruggero provides an excellent overview of what the school is really like, with its emphasis on strict discipline, the constant tension between military and academic training, and the supreme importance of beating Navy at the annual football game.

But he is not afraid to criticize an institution he generally admires: "The culture is not one that encourages cadets to excel in any one thing; instead, they are conditioned to handle multiple tasks. The result is an education that, some critics say, lacks depth. With so much on their plates, some cadets learn how to get by with minimum effort in many areas." He also wonders whether the cadets are "too isolated from their civilian peers." After just a few months of training, they begin to see others as "unmotivated, slovenly, fat, and lazy.... [As a result] some cadets are ill-suited to relate to the young soldiers they will lead." Despite this, Ruggero finds much that is good at West Point: "The [cadets] who learn their lessons well will succeed in and out of uniform." Duty First will find an audience among readers interested in leadership formation, and, perhaps especially, among high school students thinking about enrolling, as well as their parents. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Ruggero tries to explain precisely what makes the United States Military Academy, better known as West Point, a breeding ground for future leaders. He should know: not only is Ruggero a graduate, he taught English literature there for several years and has written a novel, The Academy, set at the school. By following a handful of cadets through their first year, Ruggero approaches anecdotally the attributes that set West Point apart and presents a variety of viewpoints on sticky subjects like the demanding honor code. At the outset, Ruggero, who co-authored the army's field manual on leadership, acknowledges that the academy's approach to teaching leadership is experiential rather than scientific. In an early training exercise, first-year cadets are required to enter a building filled with tear gas and remove their masks. According to Ruggero, the exercise is designed to take the cadets outside their "comfort zone," helping them to develop self-confidence and character. While West Point undeniably fosters fierce loyalty in many of its graduates, Ruggero makes clear that the experience is not for everyone. The military life is five parts tedium to one part excitement: "For every hour a soldier spends in the field, he or she will spend two or three hours cleaning and repairing field equipment." The minute attention to details of dress, etiquette and hierarchy may make for good soldiers, but they do so at a cost. At least as portrayed by Ruggero, the cadets come up strikingly short in self-awareness and intellectual curiosity, despite the fact that they are expected to lead others at an early age. But then, that may be the point. In presenting the question of how to develop leaders, Ruggero offers a balanced portrayal of West Point by a true insider that is likely to become required reading for incoming cadets much the way that Scott Turow's One L has for aspiring Harvard law school students.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (January 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060193174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060193171
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,713,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Following graduation from West Point, Ed was commissioned in the United States Army and served as an infantry officer in a variety of positions, including an assignment teaching at West Point. Following his service, Ed pursued a career as an author and public speaker, engaging audiences around the world in discussions on leadership and leader development. He also leads a Gettysburg and a Normandy Leadership Experience, where participants walk the ground of these great struggles to learn battle-tested leadership lessons that will help them meet their own challenges. Ed lives in Wallingford, Pennsylvania with his wife, Marcia Noa and a bunch of dogs. For more information, see www.edruggero.com

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 76 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Really didn't grab me. The author takes us on a whirlwind tour of West Point, but I was never really captivated. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't recommend this book
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Amy Roderick on June 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
While vacationing in Florida this past March, I walked into a book store and came face to face with this book. It caught my attention because it was referencing the year my brother was supposed to graduate from West Point. Mr. Ruggero felt comfortable writing about my brother's death. He felt comfortable enough to describe my brother as a "thrill seeker". He felt comfortable enough about this issue to put it into print for the entire nation to read without every letting anyone in Eric's family know.
While Mr.Ruggero's book was very informative he seems to have left some important information out. He didn't write about Eric's trip to the Dominican Republic to do volunteer work. He didn't write about how Eric said goodnight to every cadet in his room before he fell asleep. He didn't write about how Eric wanted to become a doctor to help people in underprivleged areas get adequate health care. He didn't write about the brothers, sisters, and friends that were so proud of Eric's accolmplishments it made them try harder to be better people. He didn't write alot.
No one knows why Eric jumped off that bridge. No one can fathum how he didn't consider that he might die. But did they ever think that becoming a officer that was trained at West Point carried alot of responsibility? Did they ever think that in times of war people really do die-it's not like the exercises at West Point? Did Mr. Ruggero know that Eric would never ask anyone to do something that he wasn't willing to do himself?
I'm sorry I forgot, There were a few nice things said about Eric. That did seem to raise the drama factor when Mr.Ruggero wrote about his death. Next book- keep our family in mind. Eric has a younger brother who just joined the Air Force. I'm sure we can work something out.
Sincerely,
Amy Roderick
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The book is well written/edited, probably a tribute to our West Point education. But unfortunately, like too many other fellow West Pointers, the author was grasping at straws to come up with what resulted in a conspicuously unnecessary, unimportant book to make money off the backs of our alma mater, cadets, and college applicants. It is 10% substance that has been stretched into book length using 90% boring minutia that would discourage any applicant from considering attending West Point. And it all is immediately becoming obsolete as West Point continually evolves and improves. Good effort, bad, bad idea.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The structure of this book was absolutely awful. The content even worse. This book has no storyline and jumps around from "heavy" army discussion to daily West Point tripe. The photos look like they were taken by a 1st grader. In summary, this book offers nothing of value.
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Really didn't grab me. The author takes us on a whirlwind tour of West Point, but I was never really cartivated. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't recommend this book.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Every school seems to need this kind of book - so the "Makers of Leaders" story gets a bit tiresome even if there are good reasons to study USMA. But better look elsewhere.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Patrick E. Proctor on May 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One of the central characters of this book is MAJ Rob Olson. He is the TAC officer for the company that Mr. Roggero follows through a year at West Point. After the events of this book, MAJ Olson was promoted early, went to the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He then went to Hawaii to serve with the 25th Infantry Division (Light).
I worked for MAJ Olson when he assumed duties as the Operations Officer at 2-11 Field Artillery, 25 ID(L), Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. About two months after he assumed this duty position, he was killed in a tragic helicopter accident which also killed six others and wounded scores more.
He had told me about this book, in passing, soon before his death and, after his death, I got and read the book. It is a wonderful tribute to him and his leadership style. He believed in empowering his subordinates and letting leaders grow by doing. I think it is great that his children, when they are older, will be able to read this book and see what a great officer their father was.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what a leader really is.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on September 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Books about leadership are big sellers today, from the 'leadership secrets' of some historical figure to the experiences and opinions of industry bigwigs. In most cases, these books seem to have the common approach of taking questionable insights and reducing them to trite slogans.
This book isn't like that. As an in-depth view of 'America's premier leadership school' (if it does say so itself), this book not only contains valuable lessons on leadership, but is also probably the best and most comprehensive book I've ever read on any of the federal service academies -- and I've read a few.
When the Army prepared to write a report on how leaders are developed at the US Military Academy (aka West Point), they discovered that, in fact, there wasn't any formal training doctrine at all. The lessons of leadership, and the means of transmitting them, had developed informally over time.
As a result, West Point cadets are not spoon-fed maxims and 'principles.' Instead, they're put in positions where they can draw conclusions and learn lessons via their own experiences. Ed Ruggero follows the same course: In telling us the stories of a handful of cadets during their journey through the Academy, he doesn't bludgeon us with 'The point of that was...' We learn as the cadets do -- and if we, or they, don't pick up some insights about leadership from this, maybe we, like they, aren't paying close enough attention.
As I said, this book isn't just about leadership. It's also an extremely good guide to the life of a cadet at the USMA.
Having recently read a book about The Citadel ('In Glory's Shadow' by Catherine Manegold), I was struck -- and hard -- by the vast difference between that school's 'adversarial' approach to cadet training, and West Point's team-based, but still rigorous, method.
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