"I cannot offer a several-step, how-to-make-a-great-decision plan for beginners," Senator John McCain writes in the introduction to his latest book, admitting that he would be hard-pressed to describe how he comes to his own decisions. But he finds enough examples in others to present an inspirational collection.
With HARD CALL, McCain and Mark Salter stake their claim as authors of the 21st-century version of John F. Kennedy's PROFILES IN COURAGE. They offer 20 courageous men and women who made a difference in the world, either by their actions or their philosophies.
McCain, a former POW during the Vietnam War, is a credible participant in this project. He understands where many of these people are coming from. The authors divide the "profiles" into six general categories --- awareness, foresight, timing, confidence, humility and inspiration --- but these qualities seem interchangeable. Each subject is admirable, though some seem more "risk-taking" than others. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat are hailed under "Timing" for brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, but the story could just as easily be played into "Foresight."
The selection chosen to lead off the book is startling, relatively speaking, as it focuses on Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey as they collaborated to break organized baseball's odious color line. (In a later chapter, President Harry S. Truman is similarly hailed for his decision to integrate the U.S. armed forces.) The pioneering ballplayer took the challenge at great personal risk, not only for himself, but for the entire African-American community.
Despite its sociological implications, such an accomplishment might seem low on the scale of globe-altering events faced by Winston Churchill, General Douglas McArthur, or the aforementioned Begin and Sadat. Then again, some readers might also raise an eyebrow over the inclusion of Alexander Graham Bell, who changed the way we communicate; King Camp Gillette, who revolutionized men's grooming; and William McPherson Allen, founder of Boeing Airlines, another forward thinker. Their achievements might be taken for granted, but would we recognize a world without their contributions?
Some of the subjects are household names, recognized as leaders in their fields. Others might be less well known, but their contributions are no less important, such as Gertrude Caroline Ederle, who, like Robinson, broke the barrier that precluded women from competing in sports; and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an African American who became enmeshed in the battle against the repressive Liberian leader Samuel K. Doe.
McCain also pays respects to the likes of Gerald R. Ford, for his decision to pardon Richard Nixon; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for bringing attention to the plight of Russian dissidents; and Robert Gould Shaw, who created the Second Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black fighting unit in the Civil War.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on August 14, 2007