If these sensible lessons break no new ground, the biographies make good reading.

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SAILING TRUE NORTH

TEN ADMIRALS AND THE VOYAGE OF CHARACTER

Principles of leadership drawn from the lives of 10 admirals from ancient Greece to the present.

Exploring self-improvement through the lives of great leaders has become a popular—and often eye-rolling—genre, but this earnest mixture of biography, memoir, and pop psychology makes no outlandish claims, and readers will absorb some significant naval history. Well-read but no scholar, Stavridis (Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans, 2017), the former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and current chairman of the U.S. Naval Institute, has done his research in the works of popular historians. For the most part, the author has chosen his subjects well, and ambitious readers can follow up using his excellent bibliography, which includes works by such noted historians as Jan Morris, Walter Borneman, and James Hornfischer. Stavridis begins with history’s first great sea commander, Themistocles, who led the ancient Greeks to victory over the Persians at Salamis and then fell from favor, ending his life in exile. Stavridis concludes that Themistocles represents a case study in charisma, risk-taking, and overweening arrogance. Perhaps most obscure is 15th-century Chinese Adm. Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch who rose to the top of the imperial hierarchy and led a titanic fleet in several voyages across south Asia as far as Africa. Demonstrating grit and self-reliance, he was “carefully organized, calm of spirit, devoted to his prince, and willing to take risks.” More familiar figures march across the pages, including Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, John Arbuthnot Fisher, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Chester Nimitz, Hyman Rickover, and Elmo Zumwalt. Stavridis ends with Grace Hopper, whose “vision of the distant future” guided a not-always-enthusiastic Navy into the computer age. In the final chapter, the author summarizes character traits that these impressive figures demonstrated, and few readers will deny that they include creativity, resilience, humility, empathy, decisiveness, and determination.

If these sensible lessons break no new ground, the biographies make good reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55993-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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