This underdeveloped history by Roberts (Churchill: Walking with Destiny) adapts a series of lectures in which he examined the lives of nine wartime leaders: Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Charles DeGaulle, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Margaret Thatcher. Roberts believes “there are certain definable principles and leadership techniques that are eternal,” but the short biographical sketches don’t convincingly support that conclusion. The chapter on Horatio Nelson, for example, details his early years rising through the naval ranks, his infamous extramarital romantic escapades with Emma Hamilton, and his daring, and fatal, heroism at the Battle of Trafalgar; then it closes with a laundry list of leadership assets (including “have a treasury back home prepared to finance the organization of the fantastically expensive operations”) without providing strong connections between them and the preceding narrative. The book closes with a synthesizing chapter that presents wide-ranging conclusions about qualities important for leadership, ranging from the typical (a strong memory) to the odd (the “overlap between successful war leadership and literary ability”). This survey is probably too cursory and superficial to reward readers who want to know more about these leaders. (Oct.)
“An understated treasure . . . [that] distills some of the insights Roberts has developed in more than a dozen classic works of history and biography, all in a slim volume that might be read over an afternoon. . . . Roberts’s chapter on Hitler is a tour de force of historical portraiture.”
—The National Review
“Roberts is superbly well-qualified to write about these extraordinary leaders. . . . Roberts’s description offers vivid detail, spare prose, immortal rhetoric, and a touch of humor. His chapters offer masterly, magnificent portraits of what it takes to steer an army or a nation through a crisis. . . . Every reader can be grateful for such a thrilling and succinct account of leadership.”
—The New Criterion
“Andrew Roberts provides lovely overviews of the careers of both Marshall and Eisenhower, among others. . . . [Leadership in War] has the enjoyable feel of a lively dinner table conversation with an opinionated guest.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Andrew Roberts is a remarkably gifted writer of vivid narrative prose, and a talented, popular historian. . . . Reading his work is always a pleasure and often a source of fresh insights.”
—The Washington Times
“Roberts delves into the experiences of wartime leaders to produce lessons for heads of business. . . . illuminating . . . These portrayals were originally delivered as lectures by Roberts, a prolific historian of World War II and biographer of Napoleon and Churchill. The profiles of Napoleon and Dwight D. Eisenhower are the most salient for business readers, but it is not difficult to find insight in nearly all of them.”
“Meticulously researched and full of revelations, this is a fascinating read.”
—The Sun (Pick of the Week)
“Roberts has a gift for finding the anecdote or quotation which reveals an essential truth about his subject.”
“Roberts provides many valuable insights into the nature of high command in war.”
—Military History Matters
“Roberts has written acclaimed biographies of several of his chosen leaders and is a master of his material. Future generations of military leaders will have cause to be grateful to Andrew Roberts for distilling the findings of his meticulous research into such an accessible and engaging analysis.”
—The House Magazine
“[Roberts] is a master storyteller. It is impossible to get bored reading him.”
—Law & Liberty
Roberts (research fellow, Hoover Inst.; Churchill: Walking with Destiny) examines major historical war figures, including Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George C. Marshall, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Margaret Thatcher. In revisiting their lives, the author hopes to find parallel qualities that define success and failure, and through a fairly selective analysis raises a number of commonalties. He lauds Nelson while admitting the admiral's unpleasant personality. He admires U.S. military leaders Marshall and Eisenhower but saves some of his kindest words for former British Prime Minister Thatcher. Strength, tenacity, morality, education, energy, empathy, must come together to make a great leader, according to Roberts, but they do not and cannot make that leader a winner. The closing essay discusses the necessity for engaging in understanding the phenomenon of war, in order to better counteract its allure. VERDICT Roberts briefly distills conservative views on what it takes to be a leader, producing an extremely readable, if sometimes simplified, summation of this aspect of military history. For public libraries and larger academic collections.—Edwin Burgess, Kansas City, KS
Evaluations of the performances of nine leaders, from Napoleon to Margaret Thatcher, who commanded their nations' military forces.
Veteran historian Roberts (Churchill: Walking With Destiny, 2018, etc.) is no stranger to many of his subjects—he's written multiple books about both Napoleon and Churchill—and holds strong opinions on all, although there are few surprises. All nine of the leaders he examines were blessed with supreme confidence and "an absolute faith in their tribes being superior to their antagonists….They believed in what is now called national exceptionalism, as tribal leaders throughout history have." Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler, de Gaulle, and Thatcher took for granted that they were destined for great things. Three career military officers—Horatio Nelson, George Marshall, and Eisenhower—never gave the impression that personal ambition, in itself entirely acceptable, trumped an obsession with smiting the enemy. All of the author's subjects were ruthless; Hitler and Stalin may stand out, but Roberts delivers unnerving examples from others, Churchill in particular. All were compulsive workaholics except Hitler, who was oddly lazy and the least intelligent. Since war, as Carl von Clausewitz put it, is the continuation of politics by other means, it's essential to possess a sixth sense for politics, which turns out to require the same talent for timing, observation, and ability to predict an opponent's behavior as a battlefield commander. However, many successful military leaders who flopped on politics (Pompey, Erich Ludendorff, Philippe Pétain, Douglas MacArthur) don't make Roberts' list—or anyone else's. Many evaluations once universally accepted are now controversial. Thus, Roberts writes that Marshall's chilly reserve won Franklin Roosevelt's deepest respect, but other historians point out that Roosevelt did business with a breezy informality and preferred the advice of men he could schmooze with.
Brief, painless biographies and reasonable, if traditional, appraisals of the qualities required to make war.