Our First Book — HEROES: What They Do, Why We Need Them

Why do we perceive certain people as heroes?  What qualities do we see in them? What must they do to win our admiration? In Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, authors Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals offer a stimulating tour of the psychology of heroism, shedding light on what heroism and villainy mean to most people and why heroes — both real people and fictional characters — are so vital to our lives.

Check out the authors’ interview on NPR’s Radio Lab program, in which they discuss their research on underdog heroes.

In their book on Heroes, the authors discusses a broad range of heroes, including Eleanor Roosevelt, the Beatles, Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino, allison_heroes_9780199739745.jpgAbraham Lincoln, and explorer Ernest Shackleton, plus villains such as Shakespeare’s Iago. The authors highlight the Great Eight traits of heroes (smart, strong, selfless, caring, charismatic, resilient, reliable, and inspiring) and outline the mental models that we have of how people become heroes, from the underdog who defies great odds (David and Goliath) to the heroes who redeem themselves or  overcome adversity. Brimming with psychological insight, Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them provides an illuminating look at heroes — and into our own minds as well.

Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, published by Oxford University Press, is now available for purchase.

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Here’s what they’re saying about Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them:

 

Heroes and villains are outliers on the bell curve of humanity, Good and Evil the basic dialectic of human nature. These fascinating processes are brilliantly illuminated in this well-crafted exposition that takes its readers on a captivating journey.”
- Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University, President of the Heroic Imagination Project, and author of The Lucifer Effect and The Time Paradox

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Who are our heroes, who are our villains and why? Through a skilled interweaving of fascinating examples, relevant research, and crucial conceptual distinctions, Scott Allison and George Goethals answer these questions for our time.” — Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Allison and Goethals have done a masterful job leading the reader through the complex labyrinth of leaders and followers, heroes and villains, and even the nature of evil. The book is both erudite and entertaining. The have used familiar heroes from fiction, popular culture, and everyday life to make important points come alive while remaining true to the empirical research literature across many areas. This is a book that may be destined to cross the line from scientific analysis to best seller.” — Martin Chemers, Professor of Psychology, University of California Santa Cruz

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By conjoining deep insights from psychology, history and the arts, Allison and Goethals have tendered a unique analysis of heroism€”and have succeeded wonderfully.” — Robert B. Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology & Marketing, Arizona State University, and Author of Influence: Science and Practice

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In this outstanding book, Scott Allison and Al Goethals probe beneath the surface of heroes and heroism. What kinds of allison_heroes_9780199739745.jpgpeople are recognized as heroes? What motivates them to take actions that most others are unable or unwilling to take? Allison and Goethals answer these questions with a rich analysis that draws from a wide range of scientific and historical sources.”

Alice Eagly, Professor of Social Psychology, Northwestern University

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George Goethals and Scott Allison, two of the world’s preeminent social psychologists, have combined their considerable talents to produce a tour de force analysis of heroes and heroism.  This book is a scholarly triumph, a heroic intellectual achievement, and one that will both inform and inspire contemporary debate and understanding of this important but neglected topic.” — Roderick M. Kramer, William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior, Graduate School of Business, Stanford Business School

6 Responses to “Our First Book — HEROES: What They Do, Why We Need Them”


  • This book sounds so intriguing!

  • I cannot wait to actually read this book! The eight traits is definitely something I want to read more about.

  • This book is a must read for people that look for a real heroes…
    hope this book is available in my place.

  • Why put a picture of superman in this blog post?;] Heroes are good to have in a society as role-models, true, but I think superheroes or simply fictional heroes – with exaggerated characteristics (very smart/brave/selfless) or with great deal of luck over the course of the story, are something detrimental to a society. They make ordinary people think that such close-to-super heroes are something common and even reliable. So those ordinary people don’t really need to take much action to better their world, instead they start thinking someone else with far greater skill will show up and make their problems go away. I think this is a dangerous idea to have in your mind.

  • You’ve asked a good question, Mark. Our superman photo reflects the fact that superheroes are what first come to mind when people think about heroes. How do we know? We’ve asked people to draw a picture of a hero. Any hero. And the vast majority draw a superhero, complete with cape, mask, etc.

    You’re absolutely correct that this kind of mindset might lead people to believe that only other people are heroes, not themselves. We’ve mentioned this is previous blog posts, but perhaps we haven’t emphasized it enough. Thank you for raising this excellent point.

  • On a nutshell we can say we need hero to strengthen us in our daily or live’s challenges. A hero is somewhat our counterpart. Our hero reflects our mindset and temperement. And this we use on our daily struggles.

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