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Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle

3.49  ·  Rating Details  ·  301 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
A galaxy of legendary figures from the annals of Western history

In this enlightening and entertaining work, Paul Johnson, the bestselling author of Intellectuals and Creators, approaches the subject of heroism with stirring examples of men and women from every age, walk of life, and corner of the planet who have inspired and transformed not only their own cultures but the
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 712)
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Interesting because of the subject itself, but I found it chaotic and fragmented and by the last chapter – enraging. After this book, I officially dislike Mr. Johnson on a personal level, and distrust him as a historian. He makes bizarre value judgements and throws opinions as facts. If his evaluations of events I have opinion on are so absurd, even horrifying, I find it hard to respect his views on the subjects I know nothing or little about. He has been on the wrong side of history far too man ...more
Mar 05, 2014 Joe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book started as a mediocrity and ended as ideological hack work. I had never heard of Paul Johnson, so I didn't realize when I picked up this book that he's a far right hack, but here were a few (retrospective) hints that this was nothing more than a vanity project for someone who should probably stop writing forever:

1. If your Thesis of Heroism is unable to discriminate between Heroes and Serial Killers, you probably need to rethink your thesis. Seriously. Read through his final argument o
Jan 23, 2015 Chrisanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very good collection of some of the best men and women to have walked the earth.

I fell in love with Wellington, Lee, and Henry V and the others, for the most part, were quite enjoyable.

Johnson nicely balances emotion and reason to provide a solid argument for the inclusion of almost every individual. However, I wasn't convinced on his inclusion of Boudica and I completed skipped Wittgenstein(it was the only one that didn't seem justified thoroughly by the author).

Also, he name drops quite a
Todd Shamburg
This book kept my interest throughout. It presented a wide variety of people through history whom the author considered to be heroic for various reasons. In the final paragraph Johnson suggests there are 4 principal marks that distinguish heroes and heroines: 1) "absolute independence of mind, which springs from the ability to think everything through for yourself, and to treat whatever is the current consensus on any issue with skepticism" 2) the ability to "act resolutely and consistently" 3) ...more
Paul Johnson's greatest hero is either his thesaurus or himself, as evidenced by this pretentious word choice and the fact that his biography is interspersed throughout the second half of the book. I was hoping for a series of vignettes about famous heroes. Instead, I got short biographies sprinkled with baseless assumptions or shameless self-promotion ("Margret Thatcher and I never did get to go on that trip together."). Based on the information provided, Johnson expects his heroes to A) be a f ...more
Sep 03, 2014 Isabel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me gusto mucho, muy bien documentado, se hace un poco pesado por la cantidad de información que presenta; y a veces cuando habla de ciertos personajes, lo hace como si ya supiéramos quienes son, y si no lo sabemos se dificulta la lectura.
May 31, 2010 Elizabeth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
We listened to this book on a road trip to LA. Overall, it was an interesting read and I enjoyed the full gamete of mini biographies covered. I especially enjoyed the prominent modern conservative figures and the personal note the author was able to add having met many of the figures in the latter half of the book.

There were only a couple of things that bothered me about the book. First, the book was lacking a clear thesis. Although I understand the book was written about the author's broad, per
Jan 21, 2014 Summers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to this a 2nd time and enjoyed it again. (paraphrased) "Heroes are rarely heroes while they live, but become heroes based on the impressions and legacy they leave." Very good!

Audiobook. This is very, very interesting. I'm liking how he compares different people in the same era, but goes into great detail of each individual. Not a rehash of history 101, but opinions and clarifications of misleading legends. Very good so far!

Finished this and liked almost all of it through to
Gene Helsel
I picked up this book because I am such a big fan of Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals." "Heroes" falls way short of "Intellectuals" but it did have it's moments and charms.

First the positives: Johnson's prose is absolutely amazing. The chapter on Thomas Carlyle is worth reading just for the prose alone. Although a bit uneven, Johnson is at the top of his game when choosing the words and crafting the paragraphs intended to bring his "heroes" to life. For the "heroes" that I hadn't previously read mu
Aug 17, 2010 Kenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Though certainly not uber-Anglophile historian Johnson's best work (my vote goes to his exhaustive "Modern Times"), still this slender volume is interesting for two reasons: (1) It gives a heads-up to the reader about people Johnson considers heroic, encouraging further study. Indeed, Johnson includes a good "further reading" list in the appendix for those interested. (2) His choice of those who he considers heroic is interesting and sometimes frankly laughable (hostesses?), but this only adds t ...more
Mar 02, 2011 Bigmg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a casual read that takes slides of notable people, some great and others just famous, Johnson hits some and misses others.

My admiration for men like Henry V and women like Queen Elizabeth has increased. Lincoln and Washington were two of the most spotless to emerge with heroic traits like civility, morality, strength of will, humility, and incredible discernment.

Sure, some people like Joan of Arc and Mary Queen of Scots have been maligned unfairly, or not, though Johnson seems to treat them
As with the other two in his series, Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky and Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney, Heroes is quite full of biases and a lot of ego, which is somehow both strength and weakness I think.

It's a bit less entertaining than the other two, and its stories are much more simpler - very rough sketches and fewer evidence/anecdotes/quotes, and then much less quirkiness... But it's still something I enjoy reading bit by bit whenever I
Jun 18, 2009 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked the first part of this book. I had heard of all of the people but did not necessarily know anything about some of them. This gives a quick overview of their life and what made them, in his opinion, "heroic". As we got into the 20th century, it became much more political. All of his heroes were conservatives. While I agree with his choices, given his definition of hero, the fact all of them agreed with him politically made me wonder if it colored his choices of earlier figures as w ...more
Sharon Zink
Dec 07, 2014 Sharon Zink rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My ambition is to read every book that Paul Johnson wrote. He is a contemporary historian. This book is a collection of biographical essays with subjects ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Pope John Paul to Marilyn Monroe. Superbly written.
Susan Ozment
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 20, 2008 Tamara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2008
Each chapter is a "hero" or two. Started off good with some biblical famous names (John, remember that question I asked about Kael the other day? She's mentioned in this chapter.) Then it zips forward to Roman times, and keeps moving forward in time until present(ish) day with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I lost interest about 2/3 of the way in at the chapter with the psychologist I'd never heard of...but before then I really enjoyed it. The reading is easy, and does manage to find one o ...more
Sep 09, 2008 Ray rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book includes brief narratives of more than a few of the expected characters (George Washington, Winston Churchill, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln), a few from ancient or Biblical days you might not expect (Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Samson, Judith) and a that find totally unexpected or not agree with (Mae West, Marilyn Monroe,
Emily Deckinson, and one or two more I hadn't heard of and don't remember). Interesting mix of characters, and you're certain to discover something new about
May 16, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb so far! Very Anglo-centric (but then this is Mr Johnson we're talking about), but still exemplary. His histories have the glory/fault of including personal anecdotes and editing. He never stints on the facts to back up everything he says, however, and really, truly does give you the whole story. He makes it all as personal as anyone can, gives you every facet of a figure's personality, and helps you get to know the people who did great and infamous deeds throughout recorded time.
Jul 07, 2010 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful and idiosyncratic view of the attributes of heroes conventional and unexpected, this book has the best features one expects in Paul Johnson: excellent writing, deep and unique insights, and a treatment of the subject that leaves the reader with a different slant and whole new appreciation. This book is also remarkable for its thoughtful commentary on a number of women heroes one might not have expected, like Mae West and Marilyn Monroe, and famous hostesses.
Mike Glaser
Apr 24, 2016 Mike Glaser rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very easy read. Paul Johnson is always informative and a pleasure to read.
May 21, 2008 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: deep-thinking
A well-written book of vignettes of famous lives which also provides some easy-to-digest history lessons. I can't say I agreed with all of his choices (in what way was Marilyn Monroe heroic?) but I enjoyed every chapter. The book also allowed me to think about the nature of heroism itself. Heroes have to have an iron will in the face of opposition, and only time will tell if their actions will be regarded as heroic to future generations.
Jun 11, 2014 Don rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think this book's worth reading because it's informative and inspiring. However, in Chapter 12 it's all right to read about Mae West but the part on Marilyn Monroe has disappointed me. I wonder if she's been regarded as a heroine in terms of 'courage' since "It is the noblest and best of all qualities, and the one indispensable element in heroism in all its different manifestations". (p. 266)
Jun 03, 2008 Marian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read book on selected heroes. Author is very clear to read and also deft in constructing concise yet meaningful sentences. The range of personalities selected is thoughtful and broad, for example: Joan of Arc, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, John Donne and Lady Jane Grey.
May 18, 2013 Kent rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The stories were too condensed for me. Some of the hero choices left me wondering and I am at a loss as to how narratives about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar could have been written in such a way as to leave me totally uninterested. I had to stop less than half-way through and put this one away.
Jason Letman
This was an interesting book. I love heroes and so I enjoyed many of the profiles in this book. I will say that there are a few "heroes" I would categorize as suspect. If you are reading this for "heroes", read selectively. If you are interested in notable historic figured, read it cover to cover.
Aug 02, 2012 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As always, Johnson's writing is his strongest point. Even if I don't always agree with his political and social views. It is refreshing to see women getting equal billing in a book like this. Should be read, especially by those who think the world has no room for heroes anymore.
Mano Chil
I liked how Paul Johnson has written about his choice of heroes. However, I would have been pleased if there were less British heroes and more highlights on heroes from the East, Africa and the Middle East like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and many others.
Frank Kelly
Aug 13, 2012 Frank Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2012
An interesting waltz through history of some of the more fascinating (and to be honest, lesser known) heroes as Paul Johnson sees them. Hard to compare to his magesterial classic "Modern Times" but interesting and inspiring in parts nonetheless.
Feb 25, 2009 Paula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book interesting and very informative in an entertaining way. If you liked Humanities classes in college as I did, you will enjoy this read. Have a dictionary handy though for Dr. Johnson's vocabulary is impressive and quite large.
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl
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