Tue January 5, 2010
From the Celebrated Journalist and Bestselling Biographer Walter Isaacson: "American Sketches"
By Rich Fisher
Tulsa, Oklahoma – On today's show, we speak with journalist and historian Walter Isaacson, the former Time magazine editor and CNN executive who might be best known for his well-researched yet immensely entertaining biographies of people like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Isaacson now serves as the head of The Aspen Institute, and his new book is a collection of essays called "American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane." The book profiles such notable American artists, thinkers, and innovators as Bill Gates, Woody Allen, Ronald Reagan, Walker Percy, and Hillary Clinton. As Isaacson tells our host Rich Fisher on today's program, his own ideas and beliefs about creativity --- and, for that matter, about the American character --- were very much influenced by the people he knew, and the experiences he had, while growing up in New Orleans. One review for Kirkus Reviews recently summed up "American Sketches" as follows: "[Isaacson] collects essays and other journalistic pieces focusing on the personalities behind significant figures in American history. Brief, illuminating portraits of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams set the tone, as Isaacson delves into the quirks of temperament that drive history as surely as political forces. The author explores Einstein's complicated relationship with God, Henry Kissinger's preoccupation with realpolitik at the expense of 'sentimental' ideals and values, and Bill Gates's boyish love of games and competition. Woody Allen's famous defense of his relationship with his girlfriend's adopted daughter --- 'the heart wants what it wants' --- occurred in an interview with Isaacson, and the author has interesting things to say on the complex balance of strengths and flaws that complicate the legacy of Bill Clinton. A New Orleans native, Isaacson movingly addresses the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and advises a slow rebuilding approach in order to retain that city's strange, delicate magic. Other figures profiled include Ronald Reagan, McGeorge Bundy, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. In each piece, Isaacson identifies an essential value or quality in the individual and analyzes the ways in which it influences political policy, social change, or scientific or technological advancement. It's an effectively engaging approach, and the short, punchy essays make their points quickly and sustain interest over the course of the book.... On the whole, this is a compelling, highly readable collection of fresh perspectives on some of the most significant names in American history. A fresh, lucid, and lively volume of profiles and analysis."