I have read two books, both gifts, since Christmas, and feel compelled to share some of the inspiration I received from each.
The first was George W. Bush's Decision Points. Now I know many of you may not be fans of his presidency. (I personally disagreed with some of his decisions and policies, and voted for him once and against him once.) But read this book! It's a fascinating inside viewpoint, told with candor and authenticity, of what went into his decision-making on about fourteen major decisions, most during his Presidency. It gave me quite a bit of new information: for instance all the conflicting information on the stem cell debate; the heartfelt commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa; the angst in making the decision to go to war in Iraq; and the consternation and chaos in the aftermath of Katrina. This account gives us all an appreciation for the complexity of decision-making at the highest level, and reduces the black-and-white judgment so many of us fall into when thinking about difficult issues. I also appreciate the courage and convictions that President Bush used in making unpopular decisions, and going against his advisors' counsel many times. Making hard decisions that you know are unpopular but are based on your values and convictions, and what you believe are the long term best interests - that is courage and integrity at its best. I have a new appreciation for both President Bush and the loneliness of decision-making at the top.
Second is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit). This is simply one of the most powerful books I have read in several years. Although a non-fiction account of the life of Louie Zamperini, it is a page-turner with a plot like no novel you have read recently. Zamperini leads quite a life in his early years, from a hellion teenager flirting with the law, to an Olympic track star in 1936. The story gets more dramatic as he enters World War II as a bombardier in the Pacific on a B-24, and narrowly survives several battles. He finally goes down on his B-24, and incredibly survives, with one of his crewmates, on a raft for a record at that time of 47 days - while being chased by sharks, shot at by Japanese fighters, and ravaged in a typhoon, all with virtually no food or water. When they finally reach land after 47 days, they are taken into captivity by the Japanese army - and begin three tortuous years in Japanese prison camps. The story of brutality and torture is horrific, but the uplifiting nobility in this story is of Zamperini's courage and resilience in preserving a semblance of human dignity, in the face of forces trying to stamp out all dignity. His story is told in compelling detail by Hillenbrand, and upon his return to America he has more demons to face - until he finally finds forgiveness for his tormentors, and for himself - and redemption for his life. It's an emotional read, and one I won't forget for a long time. Courage and grace under extreme duress - a lot to aspire to. Do yourself a favor, and go buy it now!