Rich People Things: Steve Forbes Misunderstands Augustus, Caesar and Hannibal

Richpeoplethingsnew Chris Lehmann's funny review of Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today…and the Lessons You Can Learn by Steve Forbes and John Prevas over at The Awl:

There’s a well-established cottage industry in American publishing, whereby latter-day lords of commerce and finance plunder the annals of the past for nuggets of motivational business wisdom. The genre arguably began with ad man Bruce Barton’s 1920s bestseller, The Man Nobody Knows, which deployed a series of extremely selective New Testament quotations to make the case that Jesus, in addition to his still quite impressive spiritual significance, was also a champion businessman. The intervening years have seen all sorts of amusing follow-on offerings, such as John Man’s The Leadership Secrets of Ghengis Khan and neocon toady Michael Ledeen’s Machiavelli on Modern Leadership. But as those entries show, there’s a staggering degree of self-involvement in these putative historical studies. No matter how far-flung or seemingly unsuited these Great Men (and yes, as business titan-role models, they are all capital-d Dudes) might otherwise seem, they all come bearing the same comforting lessons from their untended mausoleums: The greatness we embodied maps perfectly on the demands of modern-day success! Just heed our examples, oh wayward moderns, and prosper!

And so it came to pass that Steve Forbes was prowling a bookstore in Naples, Florida a few years back looking “for something interesting to read.” Forbes’ employees must live in dread that at such moments their maximum leader will stumble onto Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own or Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking; but happily for them, the quarry this time was Hannibal Crosses the Alps by John Prevas. And boy, did it ever get our correspondent thinking. First, he published a review of the book—well past its publication date–in his eponymous magazine, and thereby embodied a first principle of leadership: executive vanity will always trump timely coverage.

He also realized that Prevas’ popular history of that world-vanquishing moment posed—wait for it—critical lessons for today! “The financial crisis and America's recent foreign policy setbacks can be traced directly to a failure of leadership. But where do we turn for leadership, and what do we want in our leaders? History is one place to look. The past is filled with leaders who possessed extraordinary capabilities, enjoyed tremendous success, and directed societies that experienced problems similar to our own.”

[H/t: Misha Lepetic]