Recommended by Bill

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Why Courage Matters - The Way To A Braver Life by John McCain and Mark Salter

I involuntarily recoil whenever I hear the word “hero” applied to firefighters as a group. Not that there aren’t plenty of firefighters who have done some truly heroic things (I can talk for hours about the rope rescue in Times Square), I just don’t like when people call all firefighters heroes because to me, firefighting is just something we have chosen to do.

For me, the hero is the person who does the things that I’m not sure I could have done if I were placed in the moment they were. It’s a debate I have with myself often: How would I have performed on the beaches at Normandy? It’s easy to say you would be courageous, but it’s a different thing when you’re in the boat, bullets bouncing off the front and sides right up to the point you hear the ramp drop.

McCain explores these ideas as he tries to define what courage is, what’s required for us to have it, and what it is that makes some of us find it when others can’t. He has firm ideas about what isn’t courage, and how throwing the word around cheapens it. And for me personally, advancing a hose line into burning building doesn’t hold a candle to some of the heroes highlighted in this book…which I suppose is the reason I reflexively dislike hearing the word applied to firefighters as a whole. Anyway, you should decide for yourself.

I read this book when it came out in 2004, and read it again recently. It was even better the second time. And it took just over three hours, so you don’t get to claim you don’t have time to read.

Recommended to all ranks