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Book Review: Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters

51TdWpjYuLL._SL160_By Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow
HarperCollins ©2009 | Hardcover 340pgs
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Russ Imamura

Rarely do I read autobiographies of contemporary people. I find many of these writings are usually shallow stories of egotistical movie stars, sports figures, politicians or tele-evangelists. These books hardly ever leave me with any lasting worthwhile impressions.

However, after seeing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger on television earlier this year being interviewed by many people about his courageous handling of the Airbus plane on the icy Hudson River, I was immediately impressed by this human being. The qualities exuded by this person as he spoke were very genuine, upright, and commanding. When his book was published I had to get it right away to find out more about him.

And, indeed, I found out a lot about him and his story was very fascinating and inspiring. My respect for him increased as I read each chapter of this richly, detailed book.

Throughout the book, Sully, with much honesty and sensitivity, describes his modest childhood in Texas and how each member of his family, his pilot instructor and friends played an invaluable part in contributing to the individual that he is today. His father instilled in him manners, the values of hard work, honor and family values (even the value of play) – especially when encouraging him and his sister to help with the building of the family’s house. His mother instilled in him the love of reading, learning, music commitment to service and advocacy for children.

During his childhood, airplanes used to fly around the place he lived and he loved it. The love of flying was instilled in him at a very early age and this would eventually be the focus of his life. These experiences would create the conditions where he would subsequently enlist in the Air Force Academy and endure the challenges as a fighter pilot. He would later be recognized as “Outstanding Cadet In Airmanship.”

The authors also touch upon the trials and challenges of Sully’s family life, his father and mother’s background and their dedication to the community and especially to the family. Especially poignant was when he chronicled the ups and downs of starting his own family. One particular episode in his life that would haunt and trouble him was when he became outraged and shocked by a murder of a woman in New York where nobody came to her aid; this would later affirm his duty to helping people.

What truly intrigued me was his extensive discussions about airplanes and airports. He recounts many airplane accidents at various airports, his views of the anatomy of the accidents and his opinions of the industry overall. One can learn much about today’s American airport from Sully’s discussions of current practices at these airports. For example, the airline industry has gotten more casual and less civil and accommodating as the years have passed. Passengers used to get a meal and even playing cards! Children even used to get tours of the cockpit.

We also become familiar with the rapport he has with his colleagues: how he interacts with them and how he communicates with them. As he gets to the gate, Sully sets the positive tone of the impending flight: he has each member familiarize himself (or herself) with each other and he tends to their needs, thereby making the group feel like a cohesive team. We see how he communicates with his family members at various stages of his life and how he responds to the various forms of the media, which clearly shows that he understands the weight of words and the quality of conveying these words and, subsequently, how they affect those around him. A class act – a dedicated pro who puts the people he is serving on top of his priority list.

In fact, it is Sully’s perfection, his love of his craft and his values of hard work and honor and his unbending commitment to serving the public that lie at the heart of who Sully is. And it is because of the stalwart foundation of this person that was built during his lifetime that, I believe, only he alone would have been able to lead and accomplish that remarkable feat that day in January of this year, contrary to what others may think.

Most of the book covers the creation of the man, the solid guy of integrity (a word that one of his daughters asked him to define when she was young) and then goes on to describe in detail what went on during those five minutes and thirty-four seconds over the skies of New York on that cold day. This book is a must for all Americans – a book about somebody who embodies the qualities of a true American – a true hero (even though Sully doesn’t quite think of himself as one) whom we don’t see very often in these contemporary times.

Special thanks to guest contributor Russ Imamura.

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