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Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle (P.S.) Paperback – Bargain Price, December 2, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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"Anyone is a hero who has been widely, persistently over long periods, and enthusiastically regarded as heroic by a reasonable person, or even an unreasonable one." --Paul Johnson --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

About the Author

Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges across the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He contributes a weekly essay to The Spectator and a monthly column to Forbes, and lectures around the world. He lives in London.


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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061143170
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,112,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have worshipped at the shrine of Paul Johnson for 20 years, ever since "Modern Times", his revisionist history of the twentieth century. His histories of the American people, Judaism and Christianity have been readable and provocative. His masterpiece "Intellectuals" was a devastating attack on progressive thinkers whose effect on the world has been as nasty as their sordid personal lives. I wish, therefore, that I could say something positive about this effort. Alas, it is poorly-conceived and put together with very little effort. The moral sense which is usually at the heart of Johnson's work is missing here -- there is no clear notion of what a hero might be and, as a result, this book is less about heroes than it is a collection of anecdotes about historical celebrities. It is amusing in spots -- when Charles de Gaulle glares at Johnson for daring to ask a cheeky question, when we learn that Adolf Hitler was an accomplished whistler or when it is revealed that Nancy Mitford once told him that she could never successfully masturbate unless she was thinking about Lady Jane Grey. We must hope that Paul Johnson has more and better books left to write.
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Format: Hardcover
There is no doubt that Paul Johnson is one of the great historians of our time and one of our leading public intellectuals.

In this volume, Johnson attempts to explain heroes and heroism within the context of historical setting. The effort is a mixed success. Consider, for example, his use of Mae West and Marilyn Monroe as examplars of female heroism in the 20th Century.

Both portraits make their point and make it well. Both West and Monroe were more accomplished than most might give them credit for. West was a dynamic self-promoter for all of her life and an accomplished writer, actress, comedian and business person. But Monroe was a different story. She never fully actualized the person she wanted to become, though Johnson leaves no doubt that she did want to be viewed as a different kind of person. Does Monroe's failed effort make her a hero? Not to me, though Johnson draws a sympathetic portrait.

Overall, Johnson's portraits do indeed make the case that heroism comes in many guises and that men and women can be heroes. As well, the qualities of heroism remain constant, a steady moral compass regardless of what the crowds are doing.

While interesting, though, "Heroes" is never totally engaging. It is a pleasant and informative read, but not a particularly challenging one. Johnson is telling us his views here set in historical context.

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Format: Hardcover
I have read every book by Paul Johnson (including the "Art" one) and this continues a long line of quality history and commentary. One rarely notices the research, the behind-the-scenes study and education required for such a work. Unlike most of his other works, however, HEROES reverses the usual order. By that, I mean that he usually presents history augmented by biography and commentary. This time it is biography augmented with history, a slight but important difference.

Most would disagree with his choices but then the idea of hero is quite subjective. Some will (and have) criticized the book for its European viewpoint (quote unquote) but if that is the culture within which one was raised, educated and lived, what can one expect. Johnson continues his love affair with America, the home of six heroes. (Britain has the highest number with 15; The others are scattered.) His selection reminds me of GUNS & GOLD, the great story of the Anglo-American alliance that essentially built the modern liberal world.

I would have never included Wittgenstein, Lady Pamela Berry or Marilyn Monroe in this list but somehow it "works". The author discusses the commmon perception of heroes, the fact that we instantly associate military valor and personnel with the modern version of heroism. Missing were folks like Mother Theresa, politicians (besides those great for what they accomplished. Johnson continues to celebrate the individual, stressing repeatedly that it is not mass movements, academic theories or ideology that drives the world - indeed, they are three of the biggest deterrents to progress - but individuals and what they do with their lives. My Grade: A-
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Format: Paperback
This is a good read. Beginning with biblical heroes and heroines, Johnson crosses the centuries and ends with Reagan/Thatcher/John Paul II. The book is not a scholarly or theoretical one. Do not expect to find striking new insights on the nature of heroism. It is, rather, a series of vignettes, a collection of revealing stories about interesting people. In the case of more recent figures, there is the added benefit that Johnson was personally acquainted with many of them. This is not a 'famous people who have known me' memoir, but--in those cases--a set of peeks behind the scenes that are both informative and entertaining. As most readers will know, Johnson is learned, prolific and conservative. I am always struck by the breadth of his reading and knowledge, particularly in areas where I had not expected it. Heroes is a pleasant and enjoyable book. I particularly liked the piece on Wittgenstein, who Johnson remembers seeing when he was a college student. The piece on Churchill is also quite interesting. The accounts of more contemporary individuals are very direct in their honesty. This is not hagiography, but mini-biography of the sort that John Aubrey would write were he alive today.
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