Heenan divides his profiles into three categories—crusaders, combatants and comeback kids—and draws not only from education but such genres as sports, the military, climbing, and corporate downfalls. While the tales are meant to in some way illuminate character traits and strategies for converting adversity into success, they are written as an intimate glimpse behind the scenes. “From these portrayals of people under duress,” Heenan promises, “you’ll discover the roadmaps for negotiating rugged terrain, guides for forging your own bright triumph.”
Yet he does highlight six specific strategies at the start, delving into more detail at the book’s close—a list that somewhat ironically ends with “start now.” And throughout each story, adages can be easily plucked, such as Kansas State football Coach Bill Snyder’s disciplined, “future oriented,” positive mentoring and ability to meld disparate folks into a team.
But even if you’re not looking for how-tos for overcoming adversity, and perhaps even better if you’re not, the profiles are most compelling for their almost fly-on-the-wall perspective and Heenan’s personal access to each individual. Joel Klein’s story riveted because of the potential for applying his education strategies to American schools at large. The details behind commander Scott Waddle’s confrontation of failure directly after his submarine sunk the vessel Ehime Maru, killing nine Japanese citizens, is particularly captivating, as is Gary Guller’s rise to climb Everest even after losing an arm, and Hawai’i’s own Steve Case development of his post-Aol revolution plans.
Only a few seem to teeter on the edge of success, such as the tale of the Native American teenage mother Sacagawea repeated rescue of Lewis and Clark throughout their expedition to the West—it seems a bright triumph only depending on one’s point of view. And when discussing UC Berkeley women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle’s impressive perseverance, describing Cal sidetracks him and her portrait falls a bit flat. There are also times his prose meanders, as if we’re traveling synapse routes in his brain.
But above all, his either consciously or unconsciously Obama-like message of optimism and hope gives Heenan’s book far reach—unveiling remarkable lives and applicable winning strategies that, as he hopes, “carry the unmistakable accent of commitment and a willingness to act.”