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 lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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