“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”
Dr. Jim Adams is a Professor of Emergency Medicine (EM) and both the Chair of the Department of EM at Northwestern University and Senior Vice President/Chief Medical Officer for Northwestern Memorial Health Care. Although he is internationally recognized for his contributions to areas of ethics and leadership in EM, for myself and many others, he is best known as a mentor and an inspiration. To spend time with him is to walk away ready to take on the world. We appreciate the opportunity to share his book recommendations.
Dr. Jim Adams [Faculty Profile]
Thanks for this opportunity to recommend 3 books. I am taking this in a slightly different direction since I like history, biographies, and social commentary. So what that, here we go:
- John Adams by David McCullough
- The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
1. John Adams by David McCullough
“John Adams” by David McCullough [Amazon Link] offers great leadership lessons. The United States was founded as a pragmatic, philosophical exercise launched by leaders who were educated, enlightened, imperfect, argumentative, aspirational, and courageous. This biography of John Adams provides an interesting story of the most underappreciated of the 3 core founders who, along with Washington and Jefferson, helped craft a new nation. A New England lawyer whose behavior was grounded in strong principles, Adams did not have an easy temperament, did not own slaves, did not seek great fortune. His contributions are not disputed yet he remains the only founding father without a monument on our National Mall in Washington DC. His story is one of courage, ambition for a cause he believed in, and sacrifice. This readable, entertaining, historically accurate biography is a lesson in non-partisan, principled leadership.
I came away from this book with greater appreciation for our second President, for the rough and tumble of the founding of the country, and, importantly, for the leadership lessons that are still relevant today. The main lesson for me is that the value-driven contributions are most the most powerful, the great satisfiers. I came away not only entertained and informed but also with admiration for both John and Abigail Adams and the lessons their lives offer.
2. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
“The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” [Amazon Link] is written by a social psychologist who draws on both ancient ideas and modern research in this exploration of why humans flourish and find happiness. From foundational insights about the conflict between the conscious and unconscious minds to the realization that we contribute to our own happiness (though do not fully cause it) this book explores the way that humans think, perceive and believe.
The author introduces modern research that helps explain our understanding of human reality. For example, the book helps us understand more deeply why we are natural hypocrites, able to see the flaws in others while ignoring our own imperfections. From these foundational insights, the author then explores where happiness comes from. Enduring happiness does not come from just getting what we want; that satisfaction is brief. Happiness may come from within but external realities certainly impact our ability to be happy. The conclusion surrounds notions that a developed sense of self, of virtue, of connection and relatedness is central to happiness. The real ambition is a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfilment. The conclusion is not able to be summarized in a few words, though the final chapter is titled “Harmony comes from Between,” with subheadings of ‘Vital Engagement,’ ‘Cross-Level Coherence,’ and ‘Harmony and Purpose.’
This is academic enough to satisfy the scientist in us, easy enough to be a relaxing read, and meaningful enough to cause us to gain deeper insight that might even influence just how we live our lives.
3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver’s Travels is widely known, usually superficially familiar, but underappreciated as an intelligent, fabulous satire that remains completely relevant today. It is a social commentary from 1726, a time when British repressive social and political policies were causing its colony of Ireland to struggle. An immediate bestseller, it endures even 300 years later. “Gulliver’s Travels” keeps me laughing out loud as a sharp, irreverent political satire. When Gulliver arrives in the land of the 6 inch Lilliputions, he was well-intended, powerful being. Though educated, he lacked real insight. One of his first actions was to defecate in the royal palace, causing the king to have his best men called in to fix the situation, hauling out wheelbarrow loads of dung. The giant Gulliver tried to do good, wanted to be sincerely helpful, but acted in inept ways. When the town hall caught fire Gulliver extinguished the flames by urinating on it.
Maybe I am revealing too much but I think of this every time a our own government introduces new mandates. Swift helps me cope. The work succeeds because the criticism is not one-sided. Gulliver begins to win the citizens over but the king becomes jealous, even accusing Gilliver of having an affair with his wife. Such extreme silliness is funny but it is the political subtext that makes it intelligent. Everyone is both rational and irrational, good and bad, and self-justifying every step of the way. This journey continues through later chapters with the Yahoos, the Houyhnhnms and many others who provide still relevant messages.
Additionally, I would suggest reading “A Modest Proposal” [Amazon Link] also by Jonathan Swift as it manages to artfully skewer both the poor Irish and the wealthy Brits. I have found nothing today in our national narrative that has nearly the insight, depth, irony, or dark humor of Swift’s work.
* Disclaimer: We have no affiliations financial or otherwise with the authors, references or hyperlinks listed, the books, or Amazon.
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