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Publisher's Summary

What are the roots of creativity? What makes for great leadership? How do influential people end up rippling the surface of history?

In this collection of essays, Walter Isaacson reflects on the lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary and Bill Clinton, and various other interesting characters he has chronicled as a biographer and journalist.

The people he writes about have an awesome intelligence, in most cases, but that is not the secret of their success. They had qualities that were even more rare, such as imagination and true curiosity.

Isaacson reflects on how he became a writer, the lessons he learned from various people he met, and the challenges he sees for journalism in the digital age.

He also offers loving tributes to his hometown of New Orleans, which both before and after Hurricane Katrina offered many of the ingredients for a creative culture, and to the Louisiana novelist Walker Percy, who was an early mentor. In an anecdotal and personal way, Isaacson describes the joys of the "so-called writing life" and the way that tales about the lives of fascinating people can enlighten our own lives.

©2009 Walter Isaacson (P)2009 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Gerardo
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 09-02-13

Enjoyable and Insightful - Get it

After enjoying each of Isaacson's Einstein, Jobs and Franklin biographies, I decided to get this audiobook. I was concerned there would be a lot of repeat material, but there is not much really.

This is an enjoyable book. It is told as a story, you don't feel like you are listening to chapters of discrete information. The stories are interesting, relevant and educational.

The last third of the book includes a random interview with Woody Allen about his affair with his stepdaughter and then a section on the future of publishing. Both chapters feel out of place completely, I have no idea why the author or the published would include them here. But, since the first two thirds were excellent, I will give them this one chance.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Very interesting read and phenomenal narration

The narrator, Cotter Smith, keeps you engaged throughout the entire book. He could make the iTunes user agreement sound interesting.

I am a big fan of Walter Isaacson and this book is a great way to dive into more of his writing and learn about many subjects in a short amount of time per subject. Each individual explored in the book is approx. 45 minutes and very interesting.

I will be recommending this book to friends.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Not Really Sketches

This book would be more honestly titled "Walter Isaacson's political opinions about everything". There are sketches in the book but only as context for Walter to opine about current events and how he would have done things had he been king of the world. You won't be surprised to learn that he thinks George Bush is really evil and Obama might be the Messiah. Maybe that is the intended slant for sales purposes. Well read, however.

14 of 21 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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A Better Title: Isaacson's Opinions

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

It was doomed from the start.

What was most disappointing about Walter Isaacson’s story?

Title was very misleading.

What aspect of Cotter Smith’s performance would you have changed?

The material he had to read.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Too few to mention.

Any additional comments?

Enjoyed the Jobs bio, but Sketches was a waste.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Repetitive

There is a respectable narrative and interesting story in this book, but there are repeat phrases and ideas throughout it. And not similar phrases mind you, but literal cut and paste facts on people and their impacts already stated earlier in the work.

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Predictable Political Hackery

I gave Isaacson the benefit of the doubt when purchasing this title. It is not a book with an honest view of leaders. It is what you would expect from Isaacson, a book fawning over leaders he agrees with while slyly smearing ones who don’t agree with his biased political bent.

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Must Read for American History Buffs

Isaacson takes the reader on a journey through American history, masterfully weaving his own perspective on historical and contemporary issues. While some of the tales were repetitions of his prior books, the new commentary carried insights that Isaacson was reluctant to share in previous works. Somewhat serendipitously, readers may find clarity and understanding in some of today's more contentious political and social quandaries, making the work that much more impactful.

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Best book ever

But it makes you realize how insignificant you are.
You can get through this book. I did.

It caused me to have tons of emotional reactions. Such a great read

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Great Overview of Different Interesting People

What did you love best about American Sketches?

Short reviews of many interesting people.

What did you like best about this story?

He weaves the stories in coherent way.

Any additional comments?

It is a compilation of Isaacson writings in TIME Magazine. He does a good job linking them and is honest about the source of the stories. You end the book learning few things about many people.

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Very Disappointing

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 irrelevant to the book's theme. Do that again, Walter Isaacson, and you've lost at least one reader.

4 of 8 people found this review helpful