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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,136 ratings  ·  64 reviews
By bestselling biographer and journalist, a selective collection that illustrates his passage from school to journalist to illustrious biographer.
Hardcover, 285 pages
Published November 24th 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2009)
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3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,136 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Jay Connor
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Gil Bradshaw
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you are like me, and your idea of a good Friday night is googling old Walter Isaacson columns from Time Magazine then this book is a dream come true.

This is his greatest hits. There must be plenty of people like me or this book would not have been published. This book saves so much time by compiling his greatest biographical narratives (which is what he is truly good at) into one succinct place.

The part that surprised me the most about my own reaction to this book was that the most difficult
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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 But the Bill Gates and Woody Allen bits were hilariously out of date.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.
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
so well written...and what an array of fascinating people this man has had the good fortune to be able to study and interview...
It actually pains me to have to give this 2 stars. I guess essays aren't my cup of tea. I don't know why I even bothered to finish it.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lon Cohen
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Walter Isaacson is one of my favorite biographers. I’ve read his Einstein, Jobs and Franklin bios. I’m currently reading Da Vinci. He has a clear way of presenting his subjects and delves deep not only into life details but the things about the person that proves his thesis: genius is not just about intelligence but about creative thinking. He picks out examples and situations that led the subject to make a mental leap that no one else did (or possibly could) and that is what makes these histori ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very soothing and relaxing to listen too as you are driving. Cotter Smith does a wonderful job in the narration. He reads with such warmth and conviction that it would be easy to mistake him as the author himself!
This book is more of a collection of essays, where Walter Isaacson reflects on lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, and others he has written about earlier both
Kimberly Boenig
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
When the book was good, it was really good (loved the stuff on Gates, Einstein, and Allen), but there were quite a few parts that were either super dated (always a risk when putting a collection of essays together, especially topical ones) or failed to get me interested( I skipped all the essays on journalism). Great complex views though.
Aug 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is like reading Time magazine for 10 hours. A NY Times Op-ed writer masquerading as a historian. Too much opinion writing and not enough facts. His articles on Bill Gates and Einstein were pretty good, though.
Mar 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Sketches of supposedly interesting people that left me wanting less. Like going to a cocktail party and finding all the hors d’oeuvres are from Costco.
Pegi Ferrell
Sep 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
While I have thoroughly enjoyed Isaacson's other books, this felt like a way to make money: print old articles with a few introductory comments.
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really like some of his books on famous people but this was not good
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable collection of Walter Isaacson, now one of my favourite authors.

Jan 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
May 21, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Sandra Strange
It took me two months to finish this one, collected biographical sketches, obituaries, and articles written by the excellent ex editor of Time magazine. His experiences and these sketches range from a really nice assessment of the recovery of New Orleans to reflections on world figures such as Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein and Bill Gates ( who lives up to the opinion I already had of him). Reflective and frank in his assessment of these people and issues, Isaacson is always interesting and ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
David  Eastman
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Walter Isaacson has created a wonderfully readable book about great people - who were not always good people - who shaped the America of today. The characters he introduces in this volume are vastly different from one another, and thus I was at times highly entertained and at other times bored depending on who Isaacson was profiling. In each essay, there was something to be learned and if all else failed, I was still able to enjoy the superb writing style that Isaacson brings to every page. To f ...more
Jun 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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,
Oct 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Bimal Patel
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Kinda late to put in a review considering the book was published in 2010 and even more irrelevant my review would be considering the fact that the author is Walter Isaacson, who is well known in literary world. That being said I am glad that I came across this book which browsing Isaacson's other books and was an impulse buy but the one that was on the mark. Basically this book is a collection of articles written on various celebrities, movie stars not included except Kennedy, for mostly Time Ma ...more
James Kenly
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
It's funny: until listening to this audiobook, I didn't realize I'd read Isaacson's work from Time. I actually still have that copy of Time with Einstein on the cover, proclaiming him to be the Man of the Century. In any case, this is a collection of mostly previously-published pieces culled from the likes of Time and Wired. Isaacson has a tendency to insert himself in the story, and to keep from chasing or pushing the harder stories, so these are pretty much fluff pieces, but they're worth list ...more
Matthew Combs
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audible
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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Stu Morgan
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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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.
“Henry Luce to his Time magazine writers: "Tell the history of our time through the people who make it.” 1 likes
“There should be an honored place in history for statesmen whose ideas turned out to be right.” 1 likes
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