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Book Review - "Hard Time"

In what might be the most interesting political year ever, with Democrats literally flipping coins in the voting booths and Republicans arguing over who is or isn't conservative, it looks like many people are standing with ballot in their hands and tough decisions in their heads.

In the newly re-released book "Hard Call" by Republican Senator John McCain (with Mark Salter), you'll read about some other big decisions that were made throughout history, and the impacts that were left on America because of them.

When pondering the qualities we want in a leader, it's easy to commend the calm determination of Abraham Lincoln, the stick-to-itiveness of Alexander Graham Bell, or the tactical expertise of Winston Churchill. Those men have their own chapters in this book, but equally engrossing are the stories of other determined people.

Starting with a heart-in-your-throat narrative of a fellow Vietnam soldier who made a well-informed but wrong decision that resulted in capture, McCain offers up 20 tales of patience, strength of character, sense of timing, confidence, and other attributes of good leadership.

One of those tales is about baseball man Branch Rickey who worked his Brooklyn Dodgers hard, and earned their loyalty and that of the fans. Rickey was, by all accounts, a fair and moral man but few knew his complete hatred for injustice. His need to see equality led him to quietly search for a baseball player with fortitude enough to stoically endure the inevitable epithets that would surely come if an invisible racial line was crossed. Branch Rickey found that player in Jackie Robinson.

Another is about King Camp Gillette. For most of his life, Gillette was on the lookout for good ideas. His mentor was encouraging, but the elusive riches-making invention was always just outside Gillette's reach. When he finally realized what would make him wealthy and famous, it still took nearly a decade's worth of razor-sharp perseverance to refine the item that would make Gillette a household name.

And then there's swimmer Gertrude Ederle. Nobody ever told her that she couldn't do something because that was a sure-fire way to make sure Gertie did it. And even when her coaches tried to stop her, Gertie had enough confidence in herself to become a heroine.

If Senator John McCain somehow misses becoming the Republican candidate for this fall's election, he has a nice fall-back career on which he can rely: McCain's a darn good author.

"Hard Call" is part Washington and part inspiration. It's "Profiles in Courage" with a wider update. It contains a bit of McCain's political rhetoric, along with stories of good decisions, bad decisions, and ones that still cause debate. There's history in here, along with sports, science, commerce and human interest.

In short, this is a thoroughly satisfying book for anyone, regardless of political leaning, campaign platform, or candidate support and, now out in paperback, it's a bargain at the lower price.

If you're having a hard time with your own political decisions this year or if you just want to savor some thoughtful stories, get a copy of this book. Reading and enjoying "Hard Call" is not hard at all.

"Hard Call," published in 2007 by Twelve Books, is 480 pages and sells for $15.99 in paperback.