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American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  518 ratings  ·  42 reviews
By the author of the bestselling biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, a reflection on: What are the roots of creativity? What makes for great leadership?

In this collection of essays, Walter Isaacson reflects on the lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton,
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Published November 24th 2009 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2009)
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Jay Connor
I loved the last chapter ... which made the whole effort truly rewarding.

Now I am not a usual fan of the "cut-n-paste" nonfiction genre where we get a journalist's "best" articles or columns repurposed as a stand alone book. This dislike has its roots in my disappointment at "Boss," Mike Royko's Pulitzer Prize winning 1972 book on Mayor Richard J. Daley (the father of the present hizzonor). Not only had I read most of the columns, but viewed together -- rather than over a significant span of tim
Walter Isaacson is a great writer. I enjoy his books, when they are books. Had this book been a collection of original essays--in the sense they were written for this book--this would have been great. Instead, we get his curated collection of previous written articles, mostly dated, from highly respected news publications (Time, NYT, Wired, etc). Taken individually, they are great. But collectively?

Every article about Einstein had the same quips and anecdotes. Didn't know Einstein had a problem
Mar 09, 2010 Emily added it
Shelves: audio, nonfiction
Little disappointed in this. I know it's common to reuse pieces in books like this, but *all* of them are old. This wasn't so bothersome in the pieces on, say, Gandhi, Franklin and Einstein. But the Bill Gates and Woody Allen bits were hilariously out of date. The Bill Gates piece made me LOL by referencing Netscape. OH GEE I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN THAR. Could at least add an update at the end. Ha.
Kevin Eikenberry
Walter Issacson is an accomplished biographer – he’s written bestselling and acclaimed books about Einstein, Kissinger, Ben Franklin and Steve Jobs. His most recent book, The Innovators, has been on the best seller list his year. He’s also been the CEO of CNN and the Editor of Time Magazine. Knowing all of this when I saw this book on a used bookstore shelf, I was intrigued (this book published in 2010).

I picked it up based on his skill and experience and the subtitle’s promise: Great Leaders, C
James Kenly
I'm probably late to the party in celebration of Walter Isaacson as an American writer. In fact, I'm definitely late to the party. I'd read his Steve Jobs biography as soon as it came out and his work on Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein are both "on my list" -- but this work has converted me from a casual fan to a devoted reader. "American Sketches" spans nearly his entire career, which includes a celebrated tenure at the helm of Time Magazine. Serving as a survey of his work across topics and, ...more
I am typically not a fan of collections of journalistic pieces. While interesting on the one hand as a window into the commentary on current events juxtaposed by the hindsight of history, these pieces are generally not as well written as a work of history with the same goal in mind. That being said, Isaacson is a fantastic journalist and accomplished author of long form non-fiction. Therefore, this collection is worth the read. Organized into major topics, Isaacson is generally insightful and on ...more
Walter Isaacson is an exemplary writer of biography and, in general, I have enjoyed several his works. This book is an excellent example.of his work. These are short, biograpical selection of some notable Americans. The subjects include long ones about Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin, and a fascinating descriptionof the selection of te Man of the Century. Others include John Adams, Ronalld Reagan, Henry Luce, Woody Allen, and, of course, Albert Einstein. Several others are also included. A few of ...more
so well written...and what an array of fascinating people this man has had the good fortune to be able to study and interview...
I had previously enjoyed Walter Isaacson's biography of Ben Franklin, so I was looking forward to reading this one. The format was less biographical and much more of a commentary as Isaacson compiled here a number of past editorials, essays and introductions written about presidents, cabinet secretaries, business executives, scientists, authors and Woody Allen. The Allen piece doesn't really fit in with the rest of he book, and was rather lame.

Isaacson is obviously enamored with Einstein's life,
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I guess Isaacson had to call this book "American" sketches because "Fawning Portraits of Rich White Men" wouldn't sell as well. Oh, there's a review of Hilary Clinton's autobiography thrown in for diversity, but as with most things written about her, it's mostly about her husband. Even the day-in-the-life sketch of Madeline Albright is mostly about Bill Clinton. The intro is 20 pages of Isaacson trying to convince us that, despite being a Harvard white man and a Rhodes Scholar who wrote for the ...more
For the fans of Walter Isaacson who may wish to delve into some of his essays and articles when he also worked for TIME! It has some great articles and brief biographical "sketches" on some of the more significant figures--mostly from the 20th Century--though Ben Franklin and John Adams are tossed in because of his interest in those subjects and his best selling biographies. If you remember the TIME magazine Top 100 people of the 20th Century, he wrote some of the sketches then too.

There is als
When he is not being punctilious and condescending, Isaacson can also be revealing and even poetic. This collection of his essays (many from his tenure at TIME magazine) goes from the banal to the glorious, but such is typically the nature of journalism. Well worth your time, but don't be afraid to roam forward when Isaacson's topics seem either canned, or preachy.
This book is composed of various op-eds, book reviews, essays, commentaries, and introductions to larger articles by the author, who was for many years the editor of TIME magazine. The first three quarters of the book is excellent, when he focuses on people. Some of the last quarter loses focus, but all are well-written.
Matthew Combs
For the first half of the book, I kept saying that I wish the book went into greater detail about the "sketches." The book, a collection of forwards, reviews, articles, and short write-ups on some of the most influential faces of our time turned ended up being a great mix for those - like me - who tend to get bored by too many details. Although I might have preferred to have a few more details at the beginning, the depth explored for Gates and Einstein made up for it for the preliminary deficien ...more
Rosemary Farnsworth
These sketches are not as timely as they were when they were written.
They are well done. I read them because I had been very impressed with the biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Einstein written by this author.
Some parts of the book were good, but it really turned me off with his liberal bias
especially at the beginning of the book praising our current president for comparing him to
Benjamin Franklin.
Brad Mclaws
This is a collection of short essays on a wide swath of americans from Benjamin Franklin to Woody Allen. Well written. Issacson is a a great biographer.
I was all ready to give this book five stars. Discussions about the author's choice individuals who influenced history in the 20th century: I learned a lot about Albert Einstein, for example. That's the reason that I got the book in the first place.

However....during the last 20% of the book; the author, a journalist, reverted to his favorite causes. One was how customers should pay for the content in the changing news business--a self licking ice cream cone; in my opinion. I thought that irrele
Most of these pieces were written while Isaacson was an editor with Time magazine. I found most of the pieces well written and was left wanting to know more. I have read his book on Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin. Isaacson writes in a clear and precise fashion. I can see that he works very hard to write in the idiom of the day and is not far from his natural oral presentation. I highly recommend hime for a quick sense for any topic - he seems to be well balanced and attempts to present the fac ...more
This book is a collection of columns, book chapters, and other short pieces by Isaacson. Very interesting to learn more about what goes on with people and events. ESP enjoyed parts about Einstein and Bill Gates. Many interesting insights about the important influences in American society and culture and implications for the future. A little disconcerting that some parts were written quite a while ago. Would have appreciated more updated introductions. I've also read his bio of Ben Franklin which ...more
Stu Morgan
Isaacson offers brief essays on leaders who greatly influenced history in very diverse ways. He wisely limits his efforts to meaningful moments starting with our founders and moving forward to our heavily technology driven present. Everyone should always have a book sitting around in case someone has just a few minutes to fill and this is the perfect book for that. Open to any ten page essay that interests you and you'll learn something meaningful. Put it in your waiting room, living room or eve ...more
Actually was better than I expected for a collection of previously publshed articles. A collection on some of the most history changing Americans in time. The earliest "sketches" of Franklin and Adams were the weakest as I read those I could imagine a 3 star rating. But has the collection moves on the author provides better illustrations of the people, their personalities, their quirks and their contributions to the American way as it is today.
A couple of the "issues" sections (as opposed to sections on individuals) felt out-of-date. What will happen to print newspapers, written, 5 years ago, for instance.
Michael Harris
An APL Recycled Reads find. I have read all of this biographies and really enjoyed his ability to bring a historic figure to life. This collection of previously written Time pieces did not do any thing for me. It was a chore to read. I should have taken a cue from my Granddaughter and put it down.
Kat Ioannides
Walter Isaacson is a brilliant biographer, but the more i read of him the more i realize that "Steve Jobs", is his best work. This was a collection of his articles throughout the years; there were obvious standouts and some mundane pieces, but overall, a diverse portfolio of great non-fiction writer.
I love Walter Isaacson, but I did not love this book. It is a collection of his previous essays, and many of the stories repeat themselves. There are a couple great essays on Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, but overall, I would stick with Isaacson's biographies (which are really, really great).
Devin Partlow
A book on American culture, so for those who think we don't have it, read this!

This book probably could have been a little shorter if the predictions of the future of America and the summary of so many other books weren't included which didn't really add to the message anyway... IMO
This book wasn't at all what I had hoped it would be. Had I read the jacket a bit more carefully, I would have realized this work is merely a collection of previously published essays that would likely share no in depth insight on the people mentioned. The fault is mine.
Scott Burton
It was O.K. The book is essentially a collection of editorials that Mr. Isaacson has written over his career. I found a few to be very insightful. Several were somewhat informative. And a few were... blah...blah...blah. All in all a mixed bag, very uneven.
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Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
More about Walter Isaacson...
Steve Jobs Einstein: His Life and Universe Benjamin Franklin: An American Life The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

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“stories involving the troubles in Northern Ireland, Morocco’s war for the Spanish Sahara, and a ring of traders violating the sanctions against Rhodesia. He was exhilarated by danger. Once in Belfast he insisted that we go cover a demonstration, when I was quite content to stay at the bar of the Europa Hotel. He showed me that even though the street clashes might seem violent and bloody on television, just a half block away things were calm and safe. Journalism required an eagerness to get up and go places. While we were out, a bomb went off at the Europa Hotel. Blundy insisted that this should serve as a lesson for me. I agreed. But when he was killed a few years later by a sniper’s bullet in El Salvador, I gave up trying to fathom the meaning of the lesson he wanted me to learn.” 0 likes
“assessing Ronald Reagan. There are so many basic questions that even his friends cannot quite figure out, such as (to start with the most basic one): Was he smart? From the brilliant-versus-clueless question flows even more complex ones. Was he a visionary who clung to a few verities, or an amiable dunce who floated obliviously above facts and nuances? Was he a stubborn ideological coot or a clever negotiator able to change course when dealing with Congress and the Soviets and movie moguls? Was he a historic figure who stemmed the tide of government expansion and stared down Moscow, or an out-of-touch actor who bloated the deficit and deserves less credit than Gorbachev for ending the cold war? The most solidly reported biography of Reagan so far—indeed, the only solidly reported biography—is by the scrupulously fair newspaperman Lou Cannon, who has covered him since the 1960s. Edmund Morris, who with great literary flair captured the life of Theodore Roosevelt, was given the access to write an authorized biography, but he became flummoxed by the topic; he took an erratic swing by producing Dutch, a semifictionalized ruminative bio-memoir, thus fouling off his precious opportunity. Both Garry Wills in his elegant 1987 sociobiography, Reagan’s America, and Dinesh D’Souza in his 1997 delicate drypoint, Ronald Reagan, do a good job of analyzing why he was able to make such a successful connection with the American people.” 0 likes
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