An uneven hodgepodge of a memoir, featuring numerous lessons on leadership.

LEADERSHIP IN OUR LIVES

THE USE AND MISUSE OF POWER

Swendsen reflects on the leadership qualities of key figures in his life in this debut memoir.

During the 1940s, the author worked for his father at the family gas station. He writes that his dad was his “first real boss,” and a man who “treated his employees fairly and thoughtfully.” Yet not all of Swendsen’s “early bosses” displayed such positive leadership traits. His high school basketball coach, for example, played favorites, and his chemistry teacher “always did things his own way,” and accidentally blew the windows out of the classroom lab. Swendsen went on to graduate from college and join the U.S. Air Force. During flight school, he stood up to his sometimes abusive superiors. After marrying his sweetheart, Jackie, he began a long career as a park warden, where he says he had supervisors of varying quality. He remembers Bill, one of his favorites: “During the many night rides when Bill rode with me he acted like my able assistant, not my boss.” From this experience, the author concluded that “[r]eal leaders are able to put themselves in the hands of a subordinate.” Swendsen includes plenty of anecdotes about other good and bad bosses, and dozens of personal photographs. At the end, he adds several chapters about “operationally effective leadership” and a list of famous quotes about the subject, which feel tacked on. He concludes with a poem dedicated to his “quiet leader”––his late wife, to whom he was married for 58 years. This sincere memoir effectively demonstrates how various leaders influenced Swendsen’s life. However, it’s likely too personal to interest general readers, and the editing sometimes falls short; for example, he writes that one boss’s “dependency on alcohol caused him uneasy problems in running his business.…Documented accounts show that George Washington drank in moderation and was outspoken against the overuse of alcohol.” Such asides feel too didactic, inviting readers to consider that “show, don’t tell” might be sound advice for good writers and good leaders.

An uneven hodgepodge of a memoir, featuring numerous lessons on leadership.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499130348

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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