Lessons on leadership that check all the boxes.

HEARTS TOUCHED WITH FIRE

HOW GREAT LEADERS ARE MADE

A leadership guide from the founding director of the Harvard Center for Public Leadership.

Gergen, a CNN analyst and former White House adviser to four presidents, has read everything on the subject, so this is as much a review of the literature as a survey of his personal advice, but there is a great deal of overlap. In three sections, the author describes the qualities of a leader, how a leader deals with others, and examples of leaders in action. Gergen fills his text with real-world examples, most of them involving largely well-respected public figures—Churchill’s name appears 76 times, Lincoln’s 50, Stalin’s 0. Donald Trump also appears (33 times) but only as a cautionary tale. Few readers will deny that leadership starts from within, and Gergen’s lessons on self-mastery ring true despite a steady stream of bromides—e.g., “stay true to your values and principles”; “discover your true inner voice.” Readers who have digested multiple leadership guides will encounter few surprises but will not quarrel with the author’s emphasis on finding a good role model, building a solid team, learning to speak in public, and determining when the “low arts” are preferable to honesty. Particularly insightful is Gergen’s analysis of how effective leaders are able to manage across a hierarchy, including colleagues, superiors, and those who report directly to them. Throughout, the author’s definition of leader is broad and encompassing. Though they didn’t necessarily command others, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was brilliant and inspiring, Rachel Carson was a devastatingly effective writer, and climate activist Greta Thunberg is charismatic and persuasive. The text also makes it clear that while leadership is teachable, pure talent is not. Like many other guidebooks, Gergen closes with key takeaways that vary from useful (“try hard things, fail, move on”) to questionable (“give 150 percent of yourself”).

Lessons on leadership that check all the boxes.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982170-57-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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