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Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness Hardcover – October 18, 2010

3.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a thought-provoking book designed to reconsider the attributes of American leadership, Issacson (Einstein and His Universe), former managing editor of Time and now president of the Aspen Institute, has assembled a group of distinguished historians to address some seminal figures in terms of their vision, principles, flexibility, and pragmatism. Many of the contributors have first-rate résumés in scholarship, letters, and research, including Frances Fitzgerald, Sean Wilentz, Jean Strouse, and Robert Dallek. Quality writing, incisive analysis, and valuable revelations accompany each essay, whether it's Kevin Baker's take on the unpredictable baseball manager John Joseph McGraw, Evan Thomas's emotional deconstruction of Robert F. Kennedy, or Annette Gordon-Reed's perceptive measure of W.E.B. Du Bois. Three standout essays concern the moral and strategic strengths and weaknesses of Gen. George Washington; Joseph, chief of the Nez Perce Indians; and presidents Hoover and FDR. At a time when leadership is lacking, this memorable book culls examples from our past to reveal what makes a person stand above the rest. It's unfortunate that just one of the subjects--civil rights activist Pauli Murray--is a woman. 13 illus. (Oct.) (c)
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From Booklist

The qualities that define great leadership are almost as mercurial and indecipherable as those that identify great art: one notices more their absence than their presence, and sometimes a rearview mirror is necessary to determine if they ever existed at all. Isaacson has gathered preeminent writers to examine this slippery conundrum, each author portraying significant, and surprising, figures from America’s history. From historian Thomas Fleming’s penetrating review of George Washington’s military prowess to professor Glenda Gilmore’s robust depiction of civil rights activist Pauli Murray, the studies offer illuminating, insightful, and inspiring examples of valor and integrity. Likewise, biographer Robert Dallek’s judicious examination of the failures that beset successive presidents, from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, puts forth a cautionary and controversial notion of establishing a mechanism whereby officials can be recalled when they prove themselves incapable of demonstrating these requisite qualities. Incisive, shrewd, and perhaps even prescient, this eclectic collection offers rich food for thought for students of history and management alike. --Carol Haggas
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (October 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393076555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393076554
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Although academic history has become a specialized enterprise, there has been a resurgence of interest in popular histories and biographies as Americans seek to understand their past. This new book of essays edited by Walter Isaacson, "Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness" consists of thirteen essays by as many different historians on the contributions and leadership styles of important Americans, some of whom are less well known than they deserve to be to today's readers. Isaacson is the director of the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.. He has written biographies of Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger, among others.

In the book's title and in the good introductory essay, Isaacson notes that the quality of leadership is "elusive" and nonformulaic. He draws a broad distinction between those who become leaders by articulating and staying with a principle and those who are flexible and pragmatic and respond to their perception of immediate need. This distinction is valuable, but it does not capture the many different qualities of leadership illustrated in the book. I have enjoyed reading the short biographies in the American President's series edited by Scheleisinger and Willenz for their insights into the leadership qualities of the presidents. But, intellectuals, ministers, financiers, activists, and baseball managers, as well as politicians, can show leadership. What is leadership and when is it effective?

In preparing this book, Isaacson and an organization called the Society of American Historians asked several leading historians to write about whatever interested them on the subject of leadership. The result is a diverse series of thoughtful essays from a variety of perspectives.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read Walter isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs which I loved. This a compilation of mini bios are from other historians (not WI) and they feel like a Wikipedia article. The stories don't go deep in analyzing events that made those individuals strong leaders at their time.

Jp Morgans and RFK profile are worth the read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not his best writing...one of those books you write to make money in between the projects you really want to make...like Clint Eastwood who did Dirty Harry movies to then be able to pay for the truly good movie making that he has done the past couple of decades. Interesting book but he must have written it just to make a couple of extra bucks because his name sells books even if they are not great.
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Format: Hardcover
Excellent book! I was more than impressed with the selection of leadership examples and the quality of writing. I have a fairly extensive vocabulary and I'm an avid reader, but this book had at least 35 words I had never seen before in my life! It is a great resource to use with my young Airmen, and I continually refer back to parts for different leadership discussions and briefings I have the pleasure of delivering.
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