Book: The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived

Author: William H. McRaven

Review by: Shelby Grubbs, an arbitrator, mediator and special master with 45 years of legal experience, who served as the founding director for the Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation, now Georgia State Arbitration Center.

Shelby Grubbs

In this short book, Admiral William McRaven (U.S. Navy retired) sets forth in 10 chapters 10 traits comprising his “hero code.” Each chapter includes brief accounts of those who exemplify the relevant trait: courage, humility, sacrifice, integrity, compassion, perseverance, duty, hope, humor and forgiveness.

Some of the heroes discussed are well-known — like Roger Staubach, John McCain and Gary Sinise — most, however, are unknown and unsung.

By far my favorite hero – actually heroine – is featured in the chapter on duty. She is (or was) an enlisted woman in the U.S. Air Force, identified only as “Airman Jackson.” Jackson happened to be standing guard at an entrance to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when McRaven, then a three-star admiral, was summoned to an unscheduled meeting on the base with President Obama.

With eight minutes to go before the meeting with the commander in chief, Jackson stopped the admiral’s convoy of vehicles. First, the Army sergeant in charge of security, then the lead NCO in the admiral’s party and then the admiral himself approached Jackson to explain their need to get onto the base – and pronto – to meet with the president. Each was politely advised that she could not allow them to pass unless and until she received permission from her duty sergeant.

Some minutes later, but after the appointed time for beginning the meeting with the president, Jackson advised that she had received permission and could let the convoy proceed. McRaven, following the meeting with President Obama, stopped on his way off the base to thank her. Noting that she had done exactly what her duty required, notwithstanding the intimidating presence of older, larger non-coms and indeed McRaven himself, a former Navy Seal, he handed her a “command challenge” memento.

“The Hero Code” follows an earlier book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World,” and a famous commencement address at McRaven’s alma mater, the University of Texas, where from 2014 until 2018 McRaven served as chancellor and where he now teaches as a professor of national security.

I heartily recommend “The Hero Code” it as an uplifting and hopeful set of essays. It’s readable in a single sitting and reassuring in a time of division and dissatisfaction with our national dialog.

Editor’s notes: Global Atlanta will receive a 10 percent commission on any purchase of this book through the links on this page. also contributes 10 percent of the purchase price of each book to independent booksellers around the United States.

Each year, Global Atlanta asks influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued annually since 2010. 

See last year’s full list of books on BookShop here, and all 2020 reader reviews here. 

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