The Soul of a Leader:
Character, Conviction, and Ten Lessons in Political Greatness
In The Soul of a Leader, political scientist and cultural commentator Waller R. Newell offers a fascinating perspective on the role of leadership in American life today. From the birth of democracy in Periclean Athens to the Founding Fathers’ view of statesmanship, from the experiences of Abraham Lincoln to those of modern presidents, this far-reaching and provocative new book explores the many and diverse elements of good statesmanhip, including the timeless qualities all good leaders share. As Newell plumbs the depths of history, he illuminates the moral, psychological, and intellectual resources we inherit from the traditions of the West—traditions steeped in the experience and reflection on statecraft from ancient times onward—and offers a compass for the challenges America’s next generation of leaders will face.
In this engaging blend of character portraiture, historical perspective, and contemporary political insight, Newell proposes a bold new perspective on the evolution of the modern American presidency, from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush. He steps back in time to evaluate the clashing models of Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, as they captured the struggle for the soul of the American Republic. And, in an essay of masterful historical reach, he contemplates the roots of modern leadership in the story of what he calls “the West’s first superpower conflict”—the epic battle between Athens and Sparta, with its echoes of both Vietnam and Iraq. Finally, he draws from these stories ten lessons in political greatness—lessons the next American president will be wise to heed.
"A wise and thoughtful study of leaders from Pericles to Obama (up through the election). Newell has the erudition of a professor, which he is, but he writes with a conciseness and understated elegance that draws the reader in.”
– Barry Strauss, author of The Spartacus War
"The Soul of a Leader is an important book that probes deeply into the question of what makes for greatness among democratic statesmen. Turning for inspiration to sources from Lincoln to Pericles, Newell understands the present through the lens of politics, philosophy, and history."
– Francis Fukuyama
Waller Newell’s fine book shows the love of honor at work in democratic times, when honor is disguised, diminished or eclipsed. Yet where is greatness without honor, and who can live without some share of greatness?
– Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University
A lively and enthusiastic application of classical political theory to the practical problems of political leadership.
– David Frum
This book is a well-written and imaginative study of an immensely important and elusive subject, and represents years of diligent and original scholarly research and contemplation by a distinguished academic. It is a useful, as well as a very interesting read.
– Conrad Black, biographer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard M. Nixon
Waller Newell writes at a moment in history when a new generation, brimming with equal measures of hope, lofty ambition to change the world, and inexperience, is assuming power in America. Newell gives that generation, and even Obama himself, a book of wisdom about the eternal questions that a great leader must face as he rides the energies he has released in a world that does not always welcome democracy. It is a book about how a great leader can keep a democratic nation united in a time of war; when to go to war and when not to; when to be flexible and when to hold fast. . . . A book with many treasures.
– Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself
Waller Newell is passionately absorbed by American politics and very amused by it. This combination of tastes propels his exciting new book, giving it unique verve and piquancy. Newell is the only writer who can make pop culture and Roman history highlight the leadership dilemmas of the next Administration. His enormous learning lightens the narrative rather than weighing on it. There is much originality here, particularly in spotting the role of the celebritariat, a term he coined for the new revolutionary class. While provoking reflection particularly on the strange fate of honor Newell’s book will delight readers.”
– Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr., Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
Waller Newell brings a unique combination of historical knowledge, narrative skill, intellectual depth and political shrewdness to his study of the qualities that make for a great leader. Written in captivating prose and brimming with memorable insights, The Soul of a Leader will be a valuable resource for leaders and aspiring leaders in any walk of life.
– Andrew Stark, Professor of Strategic Management, University of Toronto
In this thoughtful, learned, and often witty book, Waller Newell addresses the issues of what democratic states look for when they search for leaders, and how qualities of character, intellect, conviction and temperament sometimes balance each other, and sometimes do not…Newell displays, again and again, some pithy phrasing that captures leaders (and spouses) who have been featured in recent American history… These brisk and vivid evocations of people, mood, and era are worth the price of the book itself.
– David Aikman, The Weekly Standard
Professor Newell’s book offers perceptive perspectives on America’s leaders from FDR to Dubya. Contrary to academic custom, he allows his erudition to illuminate rather than obscure his text, while measuring the ideal master of the…Ship of State…against America’s actual skippers.
– George Jonas, The National Post
Most readers will enjoy this thoughtful evaluation of history’s famous leaders, such as Pericles, Caesar, Napoleon, Lincoln and Reagan…This is not written as an uplifting chronicle, but as a serious account of how great leaders rule…These are meaty chunks of stimulating, conservative-oriented great man history that concludes with lessons for success.
– Publishers Weekly
In an analysis of the Athenians’ desire for comfort and luxury and willingness to engage in the use of force to expand their influence, Newell shows how this pattern recurred throughout history in Rome, Paris, and Berlin, among other places…Recommended for public and academic libraries with large political science or political philosophy collections.
– Jill Ortner, Library Journal
Newell’s new book explores the question of what makes a great leader — and it’s a question that anyone thrust into a position of leadership has to confront… Newell believes a political leader has to have two or three things they want done, and also have the ability to focus on them from the outset, and to know ahead of time what they are.
– Denise Ryan, The Vancouver Sun
Waller Newell offers a sweeping survey of the role of leadership in western political history… While the political process is in constant flux, the fundamental demands on political leaders are as they have always been — the challenges of war and peace, clashing claims for justice, the vagaries of economic circumstance…These challenges confront every generation of leaders, as well as citizens. In his book, Newell offers various ‘secrets’ of leadership — everything from the need for inspiring rhetoric and moral conviction to limiting goals to what’s achievable and an appreciation of the limits of power. But above all else, he says, ‘character still counts.’
– Robert Sibley, Ideas and Consequences