The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell

By Pohland, Paul A.; "Ric" Pohland, Eric A. | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell


Pohland, Paul A., "Ric" Pohland, Eric A., Air & Space Power Journal


The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell edited by Harry S. Laver and Jeffrey J. Matthews. University of Kentucky Press (http:// www.kentuckypress.com), 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008, 2008, 304 pages, $32.50 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-8131-2513-8.

The Art of Command is a collection of nine essays, each written by a different author on various facets of military leadership. The presentation of the essays preserves the sweep of American military history from the outset of the Revolutionary War in 1775 through the Gulf Wars of the 1990s to the retirement of Gen Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from active duty on 30 September 1993.

The editors identify nine leadership "themes" and nine military officers who exemplify those themes, stating explicitly at the outset that "each leader personified many, if not all nine, of our key themes" (p. 3). We add that the essayists identify many more than nine.

It is not difficult to recommend The Art of Command to a broad spectrum of readers. For those who have neither the time nor the inclination to read book-length biographies, this collection provides brief accounts (20-30 pages) of the lives and contributions of the selected American military men. More importantly, "Integrity and Leadership," the opening essay on General Washington, elaborates one of the prominent themes in current research on leadership: namely, the influence of the leader's character upon the success of any enterprise. Caroline Cox brilliantly clarifies the relationship of character to actions in the life of Washington.

We have other reasons for recommending the book. First, the essays' order of presentation from Washington to Powell offers a useful overview of US military history. Second, veterans may find an opportunity to relive a portion of their own history. Third, some readers may become acquainted for the first time with some lesser-known figures. Fourth, students of leadership may rediscover the power of transactional and transformative leadership in military guise. The text provides insights into the enormous contributions made by nine genuine American heroes.

Despite the generally positive tenor of this review thus far, we find The Art of Command flawed in several respects. First, separately and collectively, the essays contribute little new to our knowledge of leadership, in either its theoretical or applied sense.

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