The concept of leadership – and what qualities define a good leader – came to the fore this year as countries worldwide started to navigate through the turmoil associated with COVID. Many of us have craved guidance on a personal level as well, as we tackled the disruptions we experienced. So this week, as inspiration, we share stories about remarkable leaders who have tackled tremendous challenges with courage, tact and resilience.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom was first published in 1994, only months after Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in its first, democratic and post-apartheid election. Begun secretly during Mr Mandela’s long imprisonment, this autobiography was decades in the making. Despite knowing the worldwide reverence for his resilience, dignity and courage, the Nelson Mandela revealed here is surprisingly human – he is a naive and headstrong youth, a neglectful husband, a distracted father; a pragmatist who chooses tactics over principles. Yet it is indeed his famed resilience and positivity that enables him to survive, and even accomplish political objectives, during his 27 years at the notorious Robben Island prison. Long Walk to Freedom is also available as a picture book suitable for younger readers aged 5 and up.
Interventions: a Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh
For over 40 years, Kofi Annan was at the centre of international diplomacy, working for the United Nations on issues including health, refugees and peacekeeping, culminating in his appointment as the Secretary-General. Interventions: a Life in War and Peace shows us glimpses of the complex and difficult task of balancing the interests of 190+ UN member states. Mr Annan writes eloquently yet candidly, not only about the successes (the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001), but also UN’s failures (such as the Bosnian War and the Rwandan genocide), as well as highlighting the ongoing challenges due to a general slow retreat of world governments from the UN’s founding purpose.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
The release of A Promised Land, the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs about his presidency, looks to be the biggest publishing event of 2020 – with an initial print run of over 3 million copies in 25 languages. A Promised Land starts with Mr Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, ending upon the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and “aims to provide an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody”. It is an account of both public progress and personal growth. Expect fascinating insights and assured writing – Barack Obama was already a successful author before becoming President.
The Other Side of the Coin offers a rare and authoritative glimpse into the life of the Queen by a still-serving, senior member of staff. Angela Kelly is the Personal Assistant and Senior Dresser for the Queen, and has personal royal approval to reveal these charming anecdotes and never-before-seen photographs. The Queen’s distinctive outfits – which are often imbued with meaning and used as a tool of diplomacy – are not only curated by Angela Kelly, but sometimes created by her as well. Behind the focus on fashion, The Other Side of the Coin shows us the logistical demands of running the Royal Household, and glimpses of the Queen’s famed commitment to duty, hard work and service.
In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum
Intrepid, uncompromising, hard-drinking, a great raconteur – Marie Colvin lived the life of a stereotypical war correspondent. She was much admired for her journalistic prowess, and also famous for her glamorous personal life – full of wild parties and unsuitable relationships. Marie Colvin’s realisation that journalism can save lives motivated her to take ever greater risks in uncovering stories. In 2012 she died in an explosion while reporting in Syria. Lindsey Hilsum wrote In Extremis as a tribute to her friend and peer, drawing on unpublished diaries and interviews with friends, family and colleagues. As a fellow war correspondent, Hilsum’s own knowledge of the world’s conflict zones adds great depth and enlightenment to the narrative.
Being Nixon: a Man Divided by Evan Thomas
Richard Nixon: villain or misunderstood? Acclaimed biographer Evan Thomas balances sympathy with criticism as he tries to unravel the psyche of a complicated man. Nixon was socially awkward, insecure, solitary, and self-conscious of his humble origins – not the ideal personality for a politician. These behaviours created a tense internal balance – at their best, these insecurities gave him the drive to push past self-doubt, to dare to be brave, and get things done; at their worst, they fuelled petty vindictiveness, racist outbursts, and a wilful disregard of the law – leading to his spectacular downfall. And despite its ignominious end, Evan Thomas reminds us that the Nixon presidency had many significant achievements, including détente with China and the Soviet Union, the creation of the EPA, and proposing major health-care reforms.