In summer 1902, a few months into America’s Great Coal Strike, which was to prove one of the defining crises of his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt set out to finish reading a 10-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. “I really believe I have profited,” he wrote to one of its co-authors, singling out a leadership lesson about Lincoln’s character: “To try to be good-natured and forbearing and to free myself from vindictiveness.” Lincoln too was a voracious reader. He overcame his illiterate father’s tendency to destroy the future president’s books and whip him if he was found reading or telling stories to fellow farmworkers. “However dissimilar their upbringings, books became for both Lincoln and Roosevelt ‘the greatest of companions’,” Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in Leadership in Turbulent Times. In Leaders: Myth and Reality, Stanley McChrystal also admits to an intensive reading habit. He devoured history, biography and memoir before, during and after his time as an army cadet at West...

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