Lives of Moral Leadership

Robert Coles, Author Random House (NY) $23.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-50108-1
In a collection that ranges from vague to incisive, Coles (Children of Crisis; The Moral Intelligence of Children; etc.) presents true stories and reflections about moral leaders and what distinguishes them as such. Drawing heavily on recorded interviews, the Pulitzer Prize-winning psychiatrist and Harvard ethics professor profiles moral leaders he has known. Uniting all of his subjects is ""moral courage""--their ability to know who they are and what they believe in, and to take action they believe is right and necessary to instruct and influence others (Coles quotes Erik Erikson, who said, ""There's leadership in action""). Some are famous for their moral heroism--Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Day and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Others are not well known, such as Albert Jones, a janitor who volunteered to drive a bus taking African-American children to previously all-white Boston schools. Coles also examines the moral content of writers, including William Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad, and illustrates how his teacher, Perry Miller, helped him ""make connections"" between books and life. Finally, he examines how indiscretions or bad decisions by people deemed moral leaders, like President Clinton, affect their ability to lead or for others to continue to view them as leaders. The book is marred by woolly writing and overanalysis of minutiae (e.g., the phrase ""hit home"" is dissected to mean ""take up residence in the contemplative sector of our thinking life""), and Coles never fully explains how moral leadership differs from leadership plain and simple. But he excels at oral history, at getting people of action to reflect for the record, and he successfully honors his subjects (most of whom are left of center, a counterbalance to the recent right-wing dominance of the public discussion of morality) and offers the reader much to reflect on. Agent, Amanda Urban. 3-city author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-41625-5
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-375-75835-5
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-22149-8
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