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Holiday Books for the Leader in You

What better place to find last-minute gifts than the bookstore? Here are a few titles, both new and old, for the leader in your life.

For those who like their leadership lessons served up in narrative form, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey makes for riveting, miss-your-subway-stop reading. Masterfully written by former National Geographic editor Candice Millard, the book begins where many great leadership stories do: with failure.

After Roosevelt suffered a humiliating loss in his 1912 presidential bid, he set off on a disastrously under-equipped journey to the Rio da Duvida, a unmapped tributary of the Amazon. The story has everything you want from an adventure tale: disease, hunger and murder alongside camaraderie, heroism and discovery, all set in a spectacularly strange landscape. But the central drama remains Roosevelt, the hard-charging politician seeking his own redemption at the edges of human endurance. For history and adventure buffs alike, this paperback is a must-read (or must-listen).

Another book for the stout of heart, this one more recent: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes -- And Why, by Time journalist Amanda Ripley (Crown, 2008.) This clear-eyed tour of tragedies large and small raises for the reader a pressing question: What would you do if disaster struck? If your building was on fire, would you, like so many World Trade Center workers on 9/11, take the time to shut down your computer before evacuating? Or if you saw airplane-crash survivors shouting for help in icy waters, would you jump in to save them, as two Washington D.C. workers did in 1982?

These questions, along with Ripley's careful research, drive home a central point: That when disaster strikes, the first-line leaders are average people like yourself. Because so many people become strangely docile, even passive, in the face of extreme fear, Ripley points out, leadership is all the more essential. She describes how, when fire struck the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky one nights in 1977, it was a young busboy who took the stage and ordered patrons to evacuate -- even though he was convinced at the time he would be fired for doing so. Leadership, Ripley shows, can save lives.

Finally, if you're looking for a classic, try Warren Bennis' On Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003 -- or pre-order the 2009 version). Dubbed the "dean of leadership gurus" by Forbes magazine, Bennis offers this simple but arresting message: "At bottom, becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself." With Bennis (who is also an active "On Leadership" panelist), wisdom doesn't come in bullet-point management speak; he keeps it real. "To be authentic," he writes, "is literally to be your own author, to discover your own native energies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on them." Sounds like the basis for some good New Year's resolutions.

Happy reading.

By Andrea Useem  |  December 23, 2008; 9:53 AM ET  | Category:  Books Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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