Books and films about leadership.
May 19, 2010 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for narrative books and films that study the dynamics of leadership. Was tipped off to "Ender's Game." Leadership is a frequent subject of "Lost." What else should I check out?

Of course, not after self help books... but non-fiction works great as well, or even individual stories. Trying to compile some bite sized parables to keep in mind.
posted by Unsomnambulist to Law & Government (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Lord of the Flies
posted by zoomorphic at 5:38 PM on May 19, 2010

We watched "Babe" in my Social Work masters program as an example of leadership dynamics. (I was one of the only people who hadn't already seen it, and ended up weeping copiously).
posted by kimdog at 5:41 PM on May 19, 2010

Idiocracy, believe it or not. "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!"
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:50 PM on May 19, 2010

Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard.
posted by valkyryn at 5:50 PM on May 19, 2010

Three mutiny dramas:

The Caine Mutiny.
Mutiny on the Bounty.
Battleship Potemkin.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:03 PM on May 19, 2010

Watership Down!
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:04 PM on May 19, 2010

Books: The Aubrey/Maturin books by O'Brian have a lot about leadership dynamics, though it's not the ostensible topic.

Primary Colors by Joe Klein

The Assassins trilogy (fantasy) by Robin Hobb

Germinal, by Emile Zola - the main character is a leader of a union movement

Films: The Contender

You could definitely make a for Full Metal Jacket.
posted by smoke at 6:09 PM on May 19, 2010

Yeah, Germinal is great.

And very interesting to re-watch today in the context of the American debate about public health funding: Bulworth.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:12 PM on May 19, 2010

Battlestar Galactica, for sure. Especially the episodes (season 2?) when the Pegasus shows up and pulls rank on the human survivors.
posted by Sam Ryan at 6:18 PM on May 19, 2010

Non fiction, John Keegan's Mask of Command compares Alexander the Great, Wellington, U.S. Grant and Hitler.
posted by shothotbot at 6:23 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Who could forget Bio of a Space Tyrant? (warning: six-volume series by Piers Anthony, but pretty cool when I was a teenager). (Also, check out that cover illustration!)
posted by amtho at 6:23 PM on May 19, 2010

I could not more heartily recommend Carnes Lord's great and underappreciated The Modern Prince, which looks to history to detail what a modern world leader must know and do. It's incredibly erudite and brilliantly written. Lord is a neocon, but don't let that stop you--he's also a professor of strategy at the US Naval War College, and is brilliant.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:30 PM on May 19, 2010


Emma (Jane Austen) was somewhat about Emma growing into her leadership roles in her community and with her father.

The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson) is partly about leadership qualities and what causes them; the central technological object in the story is a special teaching device which makes a young lady into a leader, but only under certain conditions.
posted by amtho at 6:31 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

"All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren. Really a fine book, to boot.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:33 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Horatio Hornblower novels too. A young midshipman in the British navy advances to admiral over the course of a long and illustrious career. He never really internalizes his command, which makes it quite interesting for this purpose.
posted by valkyryn at 6:42 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

"LOST" and "All the King's Men" have a cool connection. Michael Emerson (Ben on "LOST") is the narrator of the audiobook version of "All the King's Men." His reading is fantastic.
posted by grumblebee at 6:53 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aguirre, The Wrath of God -- movie by Werner Herzog
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:59 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Citizen Kane
- I, Claudius (the books and the great TV series)
- House of Cards (BBC Series)
- King Lear
- Becket
posted by grumblebee at 7:13 PM on May 19, 2010

Seconding Sir John Keegan's Mark of Command. He's a great storyteller and an instructor at Sandhurst.
posted by zippy at 7:16 PM on May 19, 2010

If you're turning to Shakespeare, Richard II and Henry IV (both parts, but esp. I) are essentials. Lear's a good play but not centrally about leadership.
posted by alygator at 7:24 PM on May 19, 2010

Steven Pressfields books are quite good. Most of the them are written in a narrative form form the pov of a follower but focus on the leadership figures of history such as alexander the great, alcibiades, and Leonidas (he writes a lot about ancient greece).

I also think Starship Troopers is a pretty good treatise on leadership (the book, not the horrible movie).

David Gerrolds War agaisnt the Chtorr follows the path one guy takes through incrediable adversity to becoming a leader rather unwittingly and undesired, and has an interesting take on a possible way to effectively train for leadership.
posted by bartonlong at 7:27 PM on May 19, 2010

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This book prompted several conversations between me and my husband about leadership. A fun read that I think handles leadership in a really interesting way.
posted by shesbookish at 7:30 PM on May 19, 2010

Tolstoy's War and Peace. It is indeed long and a bit of a hard slog in parts, but really worth reading, in my opinion, and there are extensive sections concerned with leadership (the "War" parts of the book).

There is also a documentary: Heroes and History: The Lessons for Leadership from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. A film (65 minutes) conceived and written by James G. March, produced and directed by Steven C. Schecter. Schecter Films (in association with the Yale School of Management and the Copenhagen business School), 2008. "The main argument of the film is that "War and Peace" was an extended rhetorical refutation of the Great Man theory of history -- the idea that history is really made by extraordinary men, and the "little people" just ride helplessly along. Instead we are given examples of the ways in which Tolstoy shows that leaders merely take credit for the collective actions of common men, as a result of managing to be in the right place at the right time."
posted by gudrun at 8:07 PM on May 19, 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (The whole series.) It is interesting to see how Buffy grows into being a leader, especially as a young woman who is quite small (if stronger than she looks). Tamora Pierce explores this as well, in her series starting with Page, and another which starts with Terrier. These are all in the fantasy realm, but work quite well about women working hard to have authority, in military and police situations.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:30 PM on May 19, 2010

Thanks for one other example of female leadership. Are all female examples going to be sci-fi/fantasy? Anyone? Anyone?
posted by amtho at 8:35 PM on May 19, 2010

Are all female examples going to be sci-fi/fantasy?
Good question. Off the top of my head, three that aren't:

Elizabeth, Bandit Queen, and Australians will remember the convent politics of Brides of Christ.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:57 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Swashbuckling Leadership: Master and Commander is a good movie about leadership and adventure on the high seas!

Female Leadership: Eleanor of Aquitane is herself a pretty badass leader, marries several badass leaders, and raises a couple, too.

And, if you like girls and leadership, there's always Cutthroat Island
posted by chatongriffes at 9:25 PM on May 19, 2010

Surely Animal Farm and 1984.
posted by TheRaven at 11:33 PM on May 19, 2010

posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:34 PM on May 19, 2010

Coming in to second The Contender.
posted by bardophile at 3:30 AM on May 20, 2010

The Walking Dead (a comic book rather than a book or film, admittedly) deals heavily with the burdens of leadership.
posted by jzed at 3:49 AM on May 20, 2010

The Wire focuses pretty heavily on work, leadership and project management, especially on the side of the drug dealers.
posted by electroboy at 6:35 AM on May 20, 2010

The Miles Vorkosigan books, by Lois M. Bujold.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:19 AM on May 20, 2010

Second the Vorkosigan series. Strong leadership from men and women in there, in several different styles. Plus it is just fun as all get out and very well written.

Less well-written, but still interesting despite the abominable right wing political views of the author leaking in are David Weber's Honor Harrington books. Basically, they are Horatio Hornblower in space.

On the non-fiction side, John Julius Norwich's Byzantium trilogy is chock full of leadership examples on many spectacular levels. He also did a one volume version for those with less tolerance for length (which is what I started with. 50 pages in, I logged on to my library's OPAC and ordered all three volumes). Extremely well-written, very entertaining.
posted by QIbHom at 11:41 AM on May 20, 2010

The Shakespeare play about leadership is Henry V. The brash young Prince Hal of the Henry IV plays has to grow up in a hurry, and has his leadership challenged not only by the French crown but also traitors in his own ranks, a soldier that he talks to on the eve of battle at Agincourt (at which the English are outnumbered, although in real life, maybe not so badly), and his own conscience. Stirring, brilliant speeches--the "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" speech can still bring me to tears if it's done right. Check out Kenneth Branagh's version if you can't see it done live by a good troupe, or, you know, just read it, that's good too.

As far as military SF goes, MeFi's own jscalzi's Old Man's War is pretty good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2010

The t.v. show NCIS has some interesting leadership dynamics going on. Old-school and politically incorrect, perhaps, but it's one of the most affecting parts of the show for me.

It's only tangentially related, but I have to mention the series of blog posts called The Gervais Principle which uses the t.v. show The Office as a jumping-off point for an intriguing analysis of interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.
posted by callmejay at 12:48 PM on May 20, 2010

Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast" is (among other things) an amazing examination of small-group leadership. Every chapter is told from the perspective of one of the four principal characters (two married couples on the run from alien "black hats" in a glorified flying car). After their "captain" (the owner of the car) relieves himself of command in frustration, the remaining three rotate through the captaincy and are forced to prove their leadership philosophies in practice (or fail trying). This is, unfortunately, a deeply weird book that goes completely off the rails at the end and not the best place to start if you've never read any Heinlein. Maybe start with "Tunnel in the Sky" which deals with leadership (less pointedly) when a bunch of survival students are stranded on an alien planet.

You'll also want to read more of the "Ender" series. "Ender's Shadow" follows roughly the same timeline as "Ender's Game" but from Bean's perspective. The rest of the "Shadow" books examine the consequences of dozens of teenage military geniuses returning to Earth and the resulting global wars. You'll also get to see more of Peter in action who makes an interesting counter-point to Ender in the leadership department.
posted by zanni at 2:40 AM on May 21, 2010

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