A reader’s guide to straightforward and inspiring books

Character The Ultimate Success FactorCharacter: The Ultimate Success Factor By J. Phillip London

Character: The Ultimate Success Factor demonstrates how character, expressed through perspective, action, and resilience, determines success. Based on the personal, corporate and military experiences of Dr. J. Phillip (“Jack”) London, a successful defense industry executive, as well as many other real-life examples, the book presents the time-tested lessons behind character-driven success. The book insightfully explains that while a variety of factors form our abilities and influence the events in our lives, character is the key to long-term success.

Character is a unique set of moral and ethical qualities that define what you believe in, what you stand for, and what you expect of yourself and others. London asserts that how you act on these qualities – your statement of character – will determine how far you will go; if you succeed or fail. Success is also uniquely defined as acting with honesty and integrity, performing to the best of your ability, and appreciating the people who helped you achieve your goals. Enduring success is never gained by unethical or unlawful means, for dubious purposes, or at great moral cost. The development of character-driven success is unveiled in 17 lessons grouped into five progressive sections. Based on the architectural wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch that holds the other pieces in place, the first section is titled Keystone: Character. Expressions of character, from personal behavior to the role and influence of others’, form perspectives about success. The second section called Blueprint: Vision, adds the next step of deciding what you want to achieve. While taking the strategic steps of setting out the big picture, character is also developed by using judgment, dealing with change and the unexpected, and identifying unique opportunities to be distinctive. Structure: Action, the third section, focuses on the frequent challenges in achieving goals, such as struggles with taking the first steps, decisiveness, self-expression, and taking the lead. The value of our efforts is examined in the fourth section called Appraise: Resolve. Every so often we need, or are forced, to stop and assess things. Sometimes, it’s assessing a risk. Other times, it’s assessing whether to go any further. The final section, Build: Momentum, discusses the most important lesson; that we are building ourselves and our future, because we are all a work in progress. This is success in its most genuine and most realistic form.

 

ExtortionExtortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets By Peter Schweizer

Conventional wisdom holds that Washington is broken because outside special interests bribe politicians. The reverse is true: politicians have developed a new set of brass-knuckle legislative tactics designed to extort wealthy industries and donors into forking over big donations — cash that lawmakers often funnel into the pockets of their friends and family. Until now, Washington’s extortion scheme has gone unreported.

Yet thanks to an extraordinary effort by Peter Schweizer and the investigative staff of the Government Accountability Institute, we now know the racketeering methods and the players who profit from them. Exhaustively researched and compellingly told, Extortion names names as it pulls back the curtain to reveal the shocking new racket ruling Washington.

 

Duty Memoirs of a Secretary at WarDuty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War By Robert M. Gates

From the former secretary of defense, a strikingly candid, vividly written account of his experience serving Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before Robert M. Gates received a call from the White House in 2006, he thought he’d left Washington politics behind: after working for six presidents in both the CIA and the National Security Council, he was happy in his role as president of Texas A&M University. But when he was asked to help a nation mired in two wars and to aid the troops doing the fighting, he answered what he felt was the call of duty. Now, in this unsparing memoir, meticulously fair in its assessments, he takes us behind the scenes of his nearly five years as a secretary at war: the battles with Congress, the two presidents he served, the military itself, and the vast Pentagon bureaucracy; his efforts to help Bush turn the tide in Iraq; his role as a guiding, and often dissenting, voice for Obama; the ardent devotion to and love for American soldiers—his “heroes”—he developed on the job. In relating his personal journey as secretary, Gates draws us into the innermost sanctums of government and military power during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, illuminating iconic figures, vital negotiations, and critical situations in revealing, intimate detail. Offering unvarnished appraisals of Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Presidents Bush and Obama among other key players, Gates exposes the full spectrum of behind-closed-doors politicking within both the Bush and Obama administrations. He discusses the great controversies of his tenure—surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan, how to deal with Iran and Syria, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Guantánamo Bay, WikiLeaks—as they played out behind the television cameras. He brings to life the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid. And, searingly, he shows how congressional debate and action or inaction on everything from equipment budgeting to troop withdrawals was often motivated, to his increasing despair and anger, more by party politics and media impact than by members’ desires to protect our soldiers and ensure their success.

However embroiled he became in the trials of Washington, Gates makes clear that his heart was always in the most important theater of his tenure as secretary: the front lines. We journey with him to both war zones as he meets with active-duty troops and their commanders, awed by their courage, and also witness him greet coffin after flag-draped coffin returned to U.S. soil, heartbreakingly aware that he signed every deployment order. In frank and poignant vignettes, Gates conveys the human cost of war, and his admiration for those brave enough to undertake it when necessary.

Duty tells a powerful and deeply personal story that allows us an unprecedented look at two administrations and the wars that have defined them.

 

The Rise Creativity the Gift of FailureThe Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery By Sarah Lewis

It is one of the enduring enigmas of the human experience: many of our most iconic, creative endeavors—from Nobel Prize–winning discoveries to entrepreneurial inventions and works in the arts—are not achievements but conversions, corrections after failed attempts.

The gift of failure is a riddle. Like the number zero, it will always be both a void and the start of infinite possibility. The Rise—a soulful celebration of the determination and courage of the human spirit—makes the case that many of our greatest triumphs come from understanding the importance of this mystery.

This exquisite biography of an idea is about the improbable foundations of creative human endeavor. The Rise begins with narratives about figures past and present who range from writers to entrepreneurs; Frederick Douglass, Samuel F. B. Morse, and J. K. Rowling, for example, feature alongside choreographer Paul Taylor, Nobel Prize–winning physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, Arctic explorer Ben Saunders, and psychology professor Angela Duckworth.

The Rise explores the inestimable value of often ignored ideas—the power of surrender for fortitude, the criticality of play for innovation, the propulsion of the near win on the road to mastery, and the importance of grit and creative practice. From an uncommonly insightful writer, The Rise is a true masterwork.

 

The Long Gray LineThe Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Points’ Class of 1966 By Rick Atkinson

A classic of its kind, The Long Gray Line is the twenty-five-year saga of the West Point class of 1966. With a novelist’s eye for detail, Rick Atkinson illuminates this powerful story through the lives of three classmates and the women they loved— from the boisterous cadet years, to the fires of Vietnam, to the hard peace and internal struggles that followed the war. The rich cast of characters also includes Douglas MacArthur, William C. Westmoreland, and a score of other memorable figures. The class of 1966 straddled a fault line in American history, and Atkinson’s masterly book speaks for a generation of American men and women about innocence, patriotism, and the price we pay for our dreams.

 

Brothers ForeverBrothers Forever: The Enduring Bond between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice By Tom Sileo and Tom Manion

Four weeks after Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, the President of the United States stood in Arlington National Cemetery. In his Memorial Day address, he extolled the courage and sacrifice of the two young men buried side by side in the graves before him: Travis Manion, a fallen US Marine, and Brendan Looney, a fallen US Navy SEAL. Although they were killed three years apart, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, these two best friends and former roommates were now buried together—“brothers forever.”

Award-winning journalist Tom Sileo and Travis’s father, former Marine colonel Tom Manion, tell the intimate and personal story of how these Naval Academy roommates defined a generation’s sacrifice after 9/11, and how Travis and Brendan’s loved ones overcame heartbreak to carry on in their memory. From Travis’s incredible heroism on the streets of Fallujah to Brendan’s anguished Navy SEAL training in the wake of his friend’s death and his own heroism in the mountains of Afghanistan, Brothers Forever is a remarkable story of friendship, family, and war.