Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived - Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired)

Summary: In 1977, Bill McRaven graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and joined the Navy SEALs.  Over the course of the next 37 years he traveled the world.  During that time, he saw the worst of humanity: war and destruction, disease and poverty.  The world was full of problems, seemingly intractable, unsolvable, impossible problems.  But also, in those 37 years he saw the very best of mankind.  Men and women who sought peace, who rebuilt nations, who cured disease and lifted the poor from property.  Men and women whose compassion was so deep that it made the cruelty and indifference of others pale in comparison; men and women who were from all walks of life; from every socioeconomic background, from every race, every creed, every gender and orientation.

The Hero Code is Admiral McRaven's ringing tribute to the real, everyday heroes he's met over the years, from battlefields to hospitals to college campuses, who are doing their part to save the world. ...[It] is not a cypher, a puzzle, or a secret message.  It is a code of conduct: lessons in virtues that can become the foundation of our character as we build a life worthy of honor and respect. 

(Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  Courage.  Humility.  Sacrifice.  Integrity.  Compassion.  Perseverance.  Duty.  Hope.  Humor. Forgiveness.  These are the qualities that inspire The Hero Code, a collection of ten life lessons learned by retired U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven.  In each chapter, McRaven discusses the importance of each specific quality, sharing an inspiring quote from a well-known historical figure,  stories gleaned during his distinguished career, and accounts of others who exemplify that particular quality of heroism in their day to day lives.  At the end of each section, McRaven introduces a portion of what he calls 'The Hero Code' -- a code of conduct that helps cultivate the qualities of a hero.

I fell in (platonic) love with Admiral McRaven while reading his first book, Make Your Bed, which details ten life-changing principles he learned as a Navy SEALSoon after, I picked up his second book, Sea Stories, because McRaven has had his hand in a lot of important special operations (and who doesn't like a bang-up war story, am I right?).  I loved both books and was thrilled to read The Hero Code when it released.  I read it in spurts, intentionally spaced out over a few days just so I could make the experience last a little longer.  

While The Hero Code doesn't carry the same 'war-story' intensity as some of McRaven's other books, it is filled with inspiration and moral insight.  McRaven is obviously very spiritual and brings some of his Christian faith to the table, but in a way that acknowledges other belief systems and doesn't feel heavy handed.  There are still plenty of good stories, and McRaven excels at telling them, but more often than not, he chooses to center those stories around other people rather than himself, focusing on heroes, past and present, sung and unsung, both in and out of the military, and honoring the heroic qualities they possess.  Two of my favorite stories involved a young female airman who stood her ground in the face of intimidation and a young black Marine who sacrificed his life for his fellow soldiers in a time when his own life was less valued by others than it should have been.  These stories and countless others were incredibly moving and went a long way to restoring my faith in humanity.   

If we listen to the news, it can feel as if our world is lacking the ten qualities that make up The Hero Code.  However, if there is one thing I have learned from each of McRaven's books, it's that he always manages to see the bright side of things, and most especially people.  The Hero Code is an uplifting, encouraging reminder that heroes are everywhere, in every walk of life, willing to step up in courage, to sacrifice for others, persevere through challenges, do their duty, embrace hope, show humility, and act with integrity, compassion, humor, and forgiveness.  I read my favorite chapter of this book to my family after dinner and we all agreed (even the young ones) that it is pretty amazing.  I had teared up when I first read it to myself and had zero ability to keep it together while reading it aloud.  I'm such a cry baby!  Long story short, I highly recommend this book.  McRaven has reached 'elite' status in my eyes, and, at this point, if he writes a menu I am going to read it. 

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  I think there was one or two minor swear words (a la da**). 

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