From 'slaying heroes' to 'saving heroes'
Tracing how the meaning of heroes and heroism has changed throughout Western civilization's development, Tod Lindberg's new book, “The Heroic Heart: Greatness Ancient and Modern” (Encounter Books, available Tuesday), illuminates how the evolution of those concepts relates to the spread of democracy, freedom and equality — and how old notions remain perilous today.
Lindberg, who spent part of his childhood in suburban Pittsburgh, is a Hoover Institution scholar, Weekly Standard contributing editor and expert on efforts to stop mass atrocities and genocide. His book spans civilization's arc, from the ancient Sumerians, Greeks and Romans to the present day.
The earliest heroes risked their lives to kill and conquer. The battlefield prowess of these “slaying heroes” enabled them to impose their will on their peoples' political order. Lindberg writes that such might-makes-right rulers were “in effect, a merger: the hero as king.”
Today, by contrast, we honor what Lindberg calls “saving heroes,” who exhibit what he calls “the caring will” by risking their lives to serve and save others. His examples include selfless 9/11 first responders and, as he wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal column, the three Americans and others who stopped an August terrorist attack aboard a French train.
The book touches on Homer, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Carlyle (who coined the phrase “hero worship”) and other great minds, along with pop culture, in tracing heroism's evolution. Closer to our own time, Lindberg says, World War I and the Vietnam War played key roles in diminishing “slaying heroes” and elevating “saving heroes,” who “pose no threat to modern political order” and reinforce our principles of democracy and equality.
But, Lindberg warns, it's still too easy for “a slaying hero to pass as a saving hero,” saying that “(v)illainy usually flies a false flag.” He says that means we must guard against not just terrorist “slaying heroes” claiming they're “saving” Islam from infidels, but against “saving heroes” who offer relief from terrorist threats at the price of our civil liberties and democracy.
“From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places” by Elmira Bayrasli (PublicAffairs, available Tuesday) — As a college student and assistant to Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke at the State Department, the author believed government had answers for the world's woes. But while working on Bosnia-Herzegovina's postwar recovery, she realized government didn't — when a Bosnian woman told her work and jobs were needed there, not foreign aid. That led to this book about emerging-market entrepreneurs. She identifies “seven recurring obstacles” such entrepreneurs encounter, including poor infrastructure, monopolies, corruption and weak rule of law. And she tells the stories of seven entrepreneurs — some with Silicon Valley experience — in Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mexico, India, Russia and China. Their innovative ideas in fields including wireless communications, energy efficiency, financial services and chemicals have spawned startups with the capacity to scale up and establish new business models and industries.
RUSSIA, WWI & REVOLUTION
“The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution” by Dominic Lieven (Viking) — Approaching World War I from a Russian perspective distinguishes this book from others published in connection with that conflict's ongoing centenary, as does its related examination of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The author — a Russian studies scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, who taught for 33 years at the London School of Economics — delved deep into archives in Russia, including those of the Foreign Ministry, and sources elsewhere to recount the crucial roles played by Russian officials amid growing tensions between nationalism and empire within Russia and beyond. Believing Russia belongs “at the very center” of World War I's history, he counters typical portrayals of that era's Russian ruling class as self-interested and less than brilliant with his more nuanced, detailed account, told from what he calls his own “original standpoint.”
IN THE PIPELINE
Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:
• “The Rise of the Right to Know: Politics and the Culture of Transparency, 1945-1975” by Michael Schudson (Belknap Press, Sept. 14)
• “Unlikeable: The Problem with Hillary” by Edward Klein (Regnery, Sept. 28)
• “James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection” by Jeremy D. Bailey (Cambridge University Press, Sept. 30)
• “Putin's Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy” by Marcel H. Van Herpen (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Oct. 1)
• “Grand Theft History: How Liberals Stole Southern Valor in the American Revolution” by Ilario Pantano (Post Hill Press, Oct. 6)
• “In Defiance of Boundaries: Anarchism in Latin American History” edited by Geoffroy de Laforcade and Kirwin R. Shaffer (University Press of Florida, Sept. 15)
• “Fighting for Total Person Unionism: Harold Gibbons, Ernest Calloway, and Working-Class Citizenship” by Robert Bussel (University of Illinois Press, Sept. 30)
• “How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy” by Mehrsa Baradaran (Harvard University Press, Oct. 6)
• “Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA” by Erin E. Murphy (Nation Books, Oct. 6)
• “Constitutional Personae: Heroes, Soldiers, Minimalists, and Mutes” by Cass R. Sunstein (Oxford University Press, Oct. 7)
Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or firstname.lastname@example.org).