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  • John Murray

Forged in Crisis

Nancy Koehn

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Biography: business & industry, History of ideas, Political leaders & leadership, Business studies: general, Management: leadership & motivation

From a brilliant historian at the Harvard Business School, here is a masterful, in-depth portrait of five extraordinary figures-Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson-that illuminates how great leaders are made in times of adversity and the diverse skills they summon in order to prevail.

Ten years in the writing, Forged in Crisis, by renowned Harvard Business School historian and Davos and Aspen Institute speaker Nancy Koehn, presents five remarkable life journeys-those of 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 stories speak to us so powerfully today?

Koehn 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 with no hope of rescue; Lincoln on the verge of the collapse of the Union; Douglass threatened with a return to enslavement; Bonhoeffer agonizing on what a man of faith should do when faced with absolute evil; Carson racing against the clock-and the cancer ravaging her-in a bid to save the planet. Koehn then reaches back to each person's early years to show the individual blooming into the force he or she would ultimately become. Through their confronting of obstacles, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made, and the power to lead resides in each of us.

In a time when the highest offices in the land are occupied by the inexperienced and untested, the great question pressing on all of us is: What set of skills is required to lead in crisis, and can history give us answers? Whether it's read as a repository of great insight or as exceptionally rendered human drama, the riveting Forged in Crisis stands out as a towering achievement.

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