Forged in Crisis

The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times

Forged in Crisis

An enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights that will be of interest to a wide range of readers—including those in government, business, education, and the arts—Forged in Crisis, by celebrated Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, spotlights five masters of crisis: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.

What do such disparate figures have in common? Why do their extraordinary stories continue to amaze and inspire? In delivering the answers to those questions, Nancy Koehn offers a remarkable template by which to judge those in our own time to whom the public has given its trust.

She begins each of the book’s five sections by showing her protagonist on the precipice of a great crisis: Shackleton marooned on an Antarctic ice floe; Lincoln on the verge of seeing the Union collapse; escaped slave Douglass facing possible capture; Bonhoeffer agonizing over how to counter absolute evil with faith; Carson racing against the cancer ravaging her in a bid to save the planet. The narrative then reaches back to each person’s childhood and shows the individual growing—step by step—into the person he or she will ultimately become. Significantly, as we follow each leader’s against-all-odds journey, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made. In a book dense with epiphanies, the most galvanizing one may be that the power to lead courageously resides in each of us.

Both a repository of great insight and an exceptionally rendered human drama, Forged in Crisis stands as a towering achievement.
  • Scribner | 
  • 528 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501174445 | 
  • October 2017
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Forged in Crisis includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Forged in Crisis tells the story of five great leaders—Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson—and their journeys of perseverance and self-actualization in the face of enormous challenges. All driven by a higher purpose, all willing to make great personal sacrifices, these five men and women carried out their life’s work in times of great inner and outer turmoil. Shackleton led his men, stranded at the bottom of the world, safely home to England. Lincoln saw the United States through the bloody, divisive Civil War, bringing an end to slavery in the process. Douglass, himself an escaped slave, relentlessly campaigned for abolition. Bonhoeffer’s commitment to Christ drove him to fight against Hitler’s regime. And Carson published her seminal work, Silent Spring, as pesticide companies tried to discredit her and metastasizing cancer sapped her reserves of energy. Each leader was made, not born, forged in a crucible of dramatic extremity, and from each we can draw valua see more

About the Author

Nancy Koehn
Photograph by Steven Richard

Nancy Koehn

Nancy Koehn is an historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. She has coached leaders from many organizations and speaks frequently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the World Business ForumAn accomplished author and scholar (she earned her MA and PhD degrees in history from Harvard), she spent ten years writing Forged in Crisis, her first book aimed at a popular audience. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, and is a dedicated equestrian. 

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