Samson. Henry V. Mary Queen of Scots. Emily Dickinson. Lincoln. Robert E. Lee. Pope John Paul II. Just a few of the heroes Johnson cites in this study of greatness. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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. (Dec.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.