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Book Review: "What Made Me Who I Am" by Bernie Swain


What made me who I amLaugh. Cry. Laugh. Cry. Laugh. Cry. A-ha moment! Get upset. Awww, now melt in tenderness. Laugh and cry some more… What Made Me Who I Am accompanied me during several of my long commutes, and its beautiful stories sent me into a roller coaster of emotions. They are heartfelt and moving, and more importantly, they depict their protagonist leaders, politicians, journalists, writers, sports legends and larger-than-life, iconic people as, precisely that: people. Normal, everyday people.

We all start somewhere in life, with a family and relatives (or lack thereof), friends, school stories, childhood memories, college, our first job…and, as our life begins to take shape, there are pivotal and defining moments that mark our very existence. Those moments are the ones that somehow open up or create the paths in which we will walk through life.

Bernie Swain
Bernie Swain

What made me who I am is filled with the stories of turning points and defining moments in the lives of people whose chosen path made them successful and famous at some point. From Doris Kearns Goodwin to Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw to Tom Brokaw, Tony Blair to Dave Barry and many more (full list below), Bernie Swain, as co-founder and CEO of Washington Speakers Bureau, has represented all the great leaders that appear in his book; and, throughout the course of business, they became friends. The rest of us know who they are, and are aware of their professional deeds mainly through the media. Yet Swain decided to give us a glimpse on what made him and his clients what they are today, by portraying the human, down-to-earth, and very vulnerable aspect of their lives. This is where the emotional roller coaster comes in: the book is a collection of easy-to-read, extraordinary motivational stories, depicting the way in which love, inspiration, a desire to live a better life, pride, mentorship, joy, humor, pain, frustration, health, sickness, death, perseverance, gratitude, determination, and a myriad other values, feelings and circumstances have shaped the lives and careers of these leaders.

Writer and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez said it best: “Life is not what you lived, but what you remember and how you remember, so as to tell it.” * And to this, I would add, “It is also what you learned and how you were transformed by it.”  Every story in the book left me with a lesson to ponder and grow from it.  Highly enjoyable read. Thanks a lot, Bernie!

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear Bernie Swain tell these stories live at the Business Library as part of our 2017 CEO Series (free and open to the public). 

* Original quote in Spanish: La vida no es lo que uno vivió, sino lo que recuerda, y cómo la recuerda para contarla.

Full list of leaders whose story appears in What Made Me Who I Am:

  • Madeleine Albright – Secretary of State
  • Dave Barry – Pulitzer Prize winning author
  • Tony Blair - Prime Minister of United Kingdom
  • Terry Bradshaw - Four-time Super Bowl Champion
  • Tom Brokaw – Journalist and best-selling author
  • Ben Carson – Renowned American neurosurgeon
  • James Carville – Political strategist and commentator
  • Debbie Fields – Founder of Mrs. Fields Bakeries
  • Bob Gates – Secretary of Defense, Director of CIA
  • Barry Gibbons – Chairman/CEO of Burger King
  • Rudy Giuliani – Mayor of New York
  • Sal Giunta – Recipient of Medal of Honor
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin – American historian
  • Alan Greenspan – Chairman of the Federal Reserve
  • Lou Holtz – Legendary college football coach
  • Mort Kondracke – American journalist and author
  • Ted Koppel – American broadcast journalist
  • Mike Krzyzewski – Duke and Olympic basketball coach
  • Stew Leonard – President/CEO of Stew Leonards
  • Mary Matalin – American political consultant
  • Chris Matthews – American political talk show host
  • George Mitchell – U.S. Senator and businessman
  • Liz Murray – Homeless teenager in New York
  • Scott O’Grady – Air Force fighter pilot
  • Colin Powell – Secretary of State
  • Robert Reich – Secretary of Labor and author
  • Mary Lou Retton – Olympic Champion
  • Condeleezza Rice – Secretary of State
  • Willard Scott – NBC Today weatherman
  • Tom Sullivan – Blind entertainer, actor and author
  • Peter Ueberroth – Commissioner of Baseball
  • Judy Woodruff – American television news anchor
  • Lee Woodward – New York Times best-selling author
  • Bob Woodward – Investigative journalist and author


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