Great personalities who showed courage, leadership, compassion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am

I am inspired by books about people who work to make a difference to a country, a business or for those around them. Usually, I read biographies or books about history and sometimes books about my own field of insurance and finance.

I found Sir Winston Churchill's biographies fascinating. He came across as such a strong character that showed how one person could make an incredible difference as he did for the British war effort.

I agree with former United States president John F. Kennedy when he gave Sir Winston an honorary US citizenship and said the British wartime leader had mobilised the English language and sent it to war. I have read a lot of books about the second world war including Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin by Anthony Beevor.

Because it touches on my own personal experiences, I can relate to William Shawcross' The Quality of Mercy, through the chapters that take a profound look at the murderous Pol Pot regime and the famine which devastated Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over. In 1979, I was able to see the devastation first-hand when I worked as a volunteer to help evacuate the sick and the wounded from Cambodia to a UN centre just inside the Thai border. I saw the difference volunteer doctors and nurses - who gave up their free time and travelled to Thailand - could make.

Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe was a book I really enjoyed, as was An American Life, about Benjamin Franklin, by the same author. For me, both books show what immense characters these two great men were and in their own very different way, the differences they made to many lives right up to the present time.

Another book that has had a great influence on me because he worked in the same business as me is The Feldman Method. Written by Andrew Thomson, the author has compiled the words and philosophy of legendary salesman Ben Feldman, who was the Muhammad Ali of the life insurance business. Although out of print, I have found it a useful book because it has helped me to simplify ideas and identify goals big enough to get excited about. Feldman spent a lot of time helping others and had a particular gift in helping them to understand the value of life insurance and proper financial planning for their families. Feldman died in 1993, but I am glad that I got to know him quite well. His book reinforced my belief that whenever possible we should try to help others.

I have been interested in religion and eastern philosophy since I was a young man in the US. Recently, I read the Dalai Lama's biography, which covers many topics but, in particular, the relevance of a smile, which he considers one of the most important human characteristics.

The book also deals with preparing for and accepting death, and this was a huge comfort to my mother who died last November.

Charles Monat is chairman of Charles Monat Associates