A WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER
“Five gritty leaders whose extraordinary passion and perseverance changed history…a gripping read on a timeless and timely topic” —Angela Duckworth, #1 bestselling author of Grit
An enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights, Forged in Crisis, by celebrated Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, spotlights five masters of crisis: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.
What do such disparate figures have in common? Why do their extraordinary stories continue to amaze and inspire? In delivering the answers to those questions, Nancy Koehn offers a remarkable template by which to judge those in our own time to whom the public has given its trust.
She begins each of the book’s five sections by showing her protagonist on the precipice of a great crisis: Shackleton marooned on an Antarctic ice floe; Lincoln on the verge of seeing the Union collapse; escaped slave Douglass facing possible capture; Bonhoeffer agonizing over how to counter absolute evil with faith; Carson racing against the cancer ravaging her in a bid to save the planet. The narrative then reaches back to each person’s childhood and shows the individual growing—step by step—into the person he or she will ultimately become. Significantly, as we follow each leader’s against-all-odds journey, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made. In a book dense with epiphanies, the most galvanizing one may be that the power to lead courageously resides in each of us.
Whether it’s read as a repository of great insight or as exceptionally rendered human drama, Forged in Crisis stands as a towering achievement.
Harvard Business School historian Koehn has compiled an enthralling, if too loosely organized, look at five people who changed the world through sacrifice, courage, and conviction. Her first work of popular nonfiction gathers together stories about her subjects as illustrations of "courageous leadership." She details Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition to the South Pole, Abraham Lincoln's tumultuous presidency, Frederick Douglass's activism in the burgeoning abolitionist movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's resistance against the Nazi party, and Rachel Carson's groundbreaking ecological polemic, Silent Spring. She follows their lives, work, and difficult decisions; their challenges and their triumphs. Koehn shows that one important quality that set these leaders apart was their ability to guide others toward doing good. However, the premise for linking them together is slim: the main thematic thread Koehn finds, besides do-gooding and modeling virtue, is a stern commitment to self-improvement. Nonetheless, the individual stories add up to a fascinating look at a varied group of heroes, and Koehn's call for her audience to emulate them strikes a pleasingly hopeful note for an era of partisan discord and lack of faith in leaders.
Forged in crisis