Conquerors and Liberators: War Leaders Who Shaped Our World

Managing a successful Premier League football team or a major company takes extraordinary fortitude and foresight. But try leading a nation of millions – and then persuading them to follow you into war, with all the pain and sacrifice that entails. That’s real leadership.

So what makes for a wartime leader? This question has fascinated historian Andrew Roberts for decades and prompted him to write his latest book Leadership in War. In November 2019 Roberts was joined by Jeremy Paxman for a fascinating discussion about the qualities demonstrated by wartime generals and heads of state throughout history. All were driven by a sense of mission and an unconquerable self-belief, whether, as in Winston Churchill’s case, it stemmed from an upbringing that emphasised his right to lead and rule, or, as with Margaret Thatcher, it was the realisation that she could lead in a way that the men around her seemed incapable of doing.

We tend to think of leadership as an inherently good thing, but, as the examples of Hitler and Stalin demonstrate, it is morally neutral. Whether agents of good or evil, did these important figures nevertheless have something in common? And are there particular qualities that tend to bring success and others that doom even the most promising leaders to failure?

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