“Great man” accounts of history have long been out of favor with scholars of international relations. But Jentleson reminds readers that leaders do matter. He looks across the twentieth century to identify 15 “transformational” people who bent the flow of politics in the direction of peace and reconciliation. They include the U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger and the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai (for their roles in the United States’ opening to China), U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt (for their work building international institutions), and Mahatma Gandhi, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi (for their efforts to advance freedom and protect human rights). Jentleson observes that there is no single recipe for good political leadership, but many of the figures had some common traits, including “personal capital” (derived from strong bonds with a community and a reputation for personal courage or moral conviction), an abundance of political skill, and the ability to use the right combination of carrots and sticks to enlarge the space for compromise. None of the leaders he profiles was without flaws, but each found a moment when his or her charisma, wit, or rugged determination helped move history forward.
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