A galaxy of legendary figures from the annals of Western history
In this enlightening and entertaining work, Paul Johnson, the bestselling author of Intellectuals and Creators, approaches the subject of heroism with stirring examples of men and women from every age, walk of life, and corner of the planet who have inspired and transformed not only their own cultures but the entire world as well.
Samson, Judith, and Deborah • Henry V and Joan of Arc • Elizabeth I and Walter Raleigh • George Washington, the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Nelson • Emily Dickinson • Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee • Mae West and Marilyn Monroe • Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II
Veteran journalist and historian Johnson (Modern Times; A History of the Jews) offers 30 brief profiles of "heroes." Unfortunately, he offers a vague, tautological definition: "anyone is a hero who has been widely, persistently, over long periods, and enthusiastically regarded as heroic...." Yet Johnson's choice of subjects is highly idiosyncratic; Mae West and Marilyn Monroe are included, but not Gandhi, Mandela or Sakharov, not to mention scientists, entrepreneurs and athletes. Johnson, who is prone toward his fellow Brits, even includes a chapter on "the heroism of the hostess," including the mid-20th-century London hostess Lady Pamela Berry, whom he seems to have known well and portrays as having admirable interpersonal skills. His book contains fascinating facts and insights; for example, Johnson calls the biblical Samson "the first suicide-martyr-mass killer" and we learn that the austere philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had studied engineering, invented a helicopter part "which later became standard." Still, Johnson profiles no one in depth. The conservative author also cites as a personal hero the late Chilean dictator Pinochet, whom Johnson credits with saving his country from communism and was then "demonized" by the Soviet Union. Though informative and entertaining, this is not one of Johnson's better efforts.