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About the book

Reviews & excerpts:

New York Journal of Books (one of my favorites)

Patrick Hunt, Electrum Magazine (one of my favorites)

Die Welt, Michael Stürmer (in German)

Los Angeles Magazine: Best of the West

Washington Post

Wall Street Journal

The Globe and Mail (Canada), & Top 10 Business Books of 2012

567 Cape Talk (South Africa), podcast minutes 47-54.

Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

800CEORead, Jack Covert


Excerpted in

Media appearances:

Profiled on Zocalo Public Squareon MSNBC with Dylan RatiganRadio Parallax with Doug DesallesKKZZ with Bill FrankThe Economist Ideas Summit, 2010


MEET with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. So a father tells his son in If, a beautiful poem by Rudyard Kipling. I read that poem decades ago in school and promptly forgot it. Then, many years later, the phrase suddenly resurfaced from my memory and offered to explain my life. Then I thought about the lives of other people — people I knew, people I read about, people famous and people obscure, people alive and people long dead. And I began to suspect that the two impostors, as a pair, amount to a classic and even archetypal storyline:

1) Life is about reversal → 2) how somebody responds to triumph and disaster, success and failure, is that person’s character.

So I make that idea come alive by telling stories. The main story is that of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who almost exterminated the Romans and was considered invincible, and his Roman enemies Fabius and Scipio. Their stories are interwoven with the lives of Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Meriwether Lewis, Tennessee Williams, Carl Jung, Ernest Shackleton and others. (Here are the dramatis personae.)

Every chapter is about one particular theme relating to success and failure in our lives, corresponding to a life stage (the influence of parents, the confusion of tactics and strategy, the redefinition of success in midlife, et cetera).

The big idea (an old one, started by Plutarch) is that such lives, told in the proper way, offer lessons and parallels to me, to you, and to almost everybody.

So, yes, I invite you to see yourself in these stories, just as I see myself in them.

Here is a 14-minute “teaser” talk about my book that I gave in Berkeley in March 2010 at one of our (The Economist’s) conferences:


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