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Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters [Hardcover]

Chesley B Sullenberger
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 13 2009

“Gripping and genuinely heartwarming.”

New York Daily News


The inspirational New York Times bestselling autobiography of a true American hero, in Highest Duty Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger—the pilot who miraculously landed a crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers—shares his thoughts on leadership, responsibility, and service along with his riveting life story. Written with Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch, Highest Duty is a remarkable true-life story that the Washington Times says, “Screams to be required reading for all young people, or anybody else who needs confirmation that courage, dignity and extraordinary competence can still be found in this land.”

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From the Back Cover

On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed one of the most remarkable emergency landings in aviation history when Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger skillfully glided US Airways Flight 1549 onto the surface of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. His cool actions not only averted tragedy but made him a hero and an inspiration worldwide. To Sullenberger, a calm, steady pilot with forty years of flying experience who is also a safety consulting expert, the landing was not a miracle but rather the result of years of practice and training-wisdom he gained in the cockpit of U.S. Air Force jets and in his Texas boyhood.

Born to a World War II veteran and dentist father and an elementary school teacher mother, Sully fell in love with planes early. He learned to fly as an eager 16-year-old from a crop duster, an older neighbor in north Texas, who took off and landed his fragile plane on the grass field behind his house. While Sully′s father encouraged his interest in flying, he also imparted stern advice he′d learned from his Navy service during World War II: a commander is responsible for everyone in his care-and those words have shaped Sully′s life and work and continue to guide him today.

HIGHEST DUTY reveals the important lessons Sully learned through childhood, in his military service, and in his work as a commercial airline pilot. At heart, it is a story of hope and preparedness-that life′s challenges can be met if we′re ready for them-reminding us that, even in these days filled with war, tragedy, and economic uncertainty, there are values still worth fighting for.

A few weeks after the crash, Sully discovered that he′d lost a library book about professional ethics, Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability, in the downed plane′s cargo hold. When he called the library to notify them, they waived the usual fees. Mayor Michael Bloomberg replaced the book when he gave Sully the Key to the City in a New York ceremony.

About the Author

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III is a retired airline pilot, speaker, and consultant who has become a source of inspiration for many after his successful emergency water landing of a disabled airliner on the Hudson River. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds two master's degrees and an honorary doctorate of letters from Purdue University. He has testified before Congress about aviation safety and the state of the airline piloting profession. He serves as the CBS News aviation and safety expert, is the founder of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., a management, safety, and performance consulting company, and was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. He lives with his family in Danville, California.

Jeffrey Zaslow is a Wall Street Journal columnist, and, with Randy Pausch, coauthor of The Last Lecture, and the author of The Girls from Ames. Zaslow lives in Michigan, with his family.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Must say it wasn't a page turner BUT a book that made me certainly have a closer look at my own professionalism. I'm therefore sure glad I read it, appreciate much of what Capt. Sullenberger has to say and have now passed this on to a friend who can certainly appreciate a constant theme in this book, be professional, be prepared!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man of integrity Nov. 17 2009
By Winston
Finished the book in 2 sittings. Enjoyed it immensely and couldn't put it down. I have a lot of respect for Captain Sully and his family and his crew. They did an incredible job and saved a lot of lives. I am glad I could read this superb book. At times it makes you joyous and at times it makes you appreciate the little things that life throws at people. Captain Sully is a true American and a real hero, in my opinion. This book is simply his short/brief narrative of how his life has always been centered around caution, safety and avoiding life threatening risks. A life full of integrity and simplicity. An enjoyable read. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it to aviation enthusiasts. 5/5
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! July 29 2014
Simply a great book if you want to see into the mind of a hero!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Well Written Aug. 20 2010
Parts of this book were difficult for me to accept, especially how the author seems to over-rates himself from cover to cover. This is a good book for young pilots or wanna-be aviators, but not for mature professionals.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  173 reviews
184 of 187 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Daily Devotion to Duty" Oct. 14 2009
By Alexander Clemens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I think that Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's book reads well. Very well, indeed. Were it solely about the five minute flight over New York City in January, 2009, it would have a lot of padding in its 300+ pages - but fortunately, and obviously (to those who know the author), it's not just about the world-famous events of the amazing ditching on the Hudson River - it goes far, far beyond that.

Highest Duty is a portrait of an American life. Sully takes us on a tour encompassing his small-town upbringing, discussing his parents' instillation of strong, consistent values, discussing his early love affair with aviation, telling personal and touching stories of his family and his remarkable wife and partner Lorrie, covering his life-long focus on improving safety and reliability in aviation, and reviewing his observations about our nation's commercial aviation industry.

While one might reasonably wonder whether a formerly anonymous commercial pilot would have a compelling story to tell - a story that goes beyond the brief flight over the Hudson River - the engaging pages of Highest Duty make it clear that Sully's story is engaging, gripping, and filled with lessons for us all.
103 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Story Oct. 19 2009
By AdamSmythe - Published on Amazon.com
If you are looking for a long narrative of Chesley "Sully" Sulllenberger's amazing piloting of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, then you will be disappointed, so don't buy this book. On the other hand, if you want to know just what brings a man like Sully Sullenberger to exceptional (maybe even heroic) performance, then read on. The answer is developed over 300 pages of Sullenberger telling the reader the story of his life--from a small community in Texas through the rigors of the Air Force Academy through service to his country as an Air Force fighter pilot and on to his commercial flying career. Were it not for the remarkable challenge of "The Miracle on the Hudson," chances are that we'd never have heard of Sully Sullenberger. Indeed, he estimated that he has flown perhaps a million people--and until January 15 virtually none of whom would recognize him a week after their flight--and that's the way he would want it to be. Yet that doesn't mean the strength and character of the man weren't already there. If there's one thing to derive from this interesting book, that's it. His remarkable qualities were already developed through his life experiences.

As you read this book, you realize that Sullenberger was absolutely prepared to be a pilot. It started back when he learned to fly (at age 16), it continued during his years at the Air Force Academy and in the Air Force, and it kept growing through his commercial pilot career. For example, he made a point of studying aircraft accidents, trying to put himself in the seats of those who had to make split-second decisions. I was surprised to read that he studied an ocean ditching (a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco) that had remarkable similarities to Sullenberger's ditching in the Hudson: that pilot walked up and down the plane, twice, to make sure everyone had left, and the plane stayed afloat for 21 minutes. Sullenberger knew what to do on January 15, 2009, because he had thoroughly thought through the process long before he was called to land in the Hudson.

There is a fair amount of personal story in Highest Duty--the story of his parents, wife and adopted daughters; the sad state of the commercial airline business; his struggling finances and his commitment to helping others. The reader can see that Sullenberger is no Superman, just another one of a long list of committed people who have resolved to be prepared and to do the right thing--whether or not they ever become famous. There are also some fighter pilot stories that you'd expect (and appreciate). You learn that one thing about being a fighter pilot is that one understands how important skill and clear thinking are, but one also realizes that some things aren't necessarily left in your own hands.

In short, this book is an easy to read and enjoyable experience. It is insightful, too. You'll probably read it in just a few sittings, and you will likely develop the feeling that there are many American heroes out there. We just don't know all their names.
68 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant & stunning! Oct. 15 2009
By genesrus - Published on Amazon.com
Found myself captivated by the book that Capt. Sully Sullenberger wrote in the aftermath of sailing on the Hudson with an Airbus A320. Agree with the couple of other reviewers that this is about much more than just the LGA incident. This book describes the ethos of a very modest, private and self effacing pilot and gives us a window into a career and a calling that saved the lives of some 150 odd people. I found the content on relationships and parenting very readable and poignant. What I found saddening is the dismantling of America that I see in all walks of life extends to even the airline industry. I probably realized it was happening but to have it spelled out by Sully .....the outsourcing of even the airlines: maintenance, machining and the incredibly low wages accorded pilots is STUNNING. I found the book well written and lucid!! On a somewhat separate note I find it beyond belief that we all prop up systems that reward Wall Street and their sinecures while driving the likes of Sully into penury!
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars quick read delivering a powerful social message Oct. 18 2009
By Russell Scherwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At first glance, this is an unspectacular work by a regular guy who takes a lot of pride in and passion for his chosen career.

At a deeper glance, this book has solidified my belief that one's life is defined by the outcome of inflection moments. These moments are rare, they come at unpredictable times and change everything. This is a book about a man who was (a) prepared to manage risks, (b) in the moments that mattered drew from that preparedness with flawless execution, and (c) performed his captain duties by ensuring his passengers' safety after the ditch.

The message to be taken out is two-fold:

1) Time is a dangerous agent that can remove lessons of the key risks, and every professional has a duty in understanding their landscape and drawing from historical perspective, in doing their job and being prepared for the unlikely, yet possible inflection events.

2) Service organizations have a duty to set risk management procedures that encompass known risks, and those they service should be able to define whether they'll pay.

I highly recommend this read, and remain in awe of all the people and events surrounding Flight 1549.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A HERO AND A ROLE MODEL Oct. 20 2009
By Ellen Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Captain Chesley Sullenberger thinks himself an average citizen just 'doing his job.' He couldn't be more wrong. In an age when most folks do just enough to 'get by' Sullenberger's personal standards of excellence set the bar for the rest of us--and resulted in saving 150+ lives on that fateful January day.

It was not surprising to learn of the people who touched his young life and instilled in him a quest for perfection. His years at the Air Force Academy honed his talent, but his personal desire to be the best put him in a class by himself.

Most of us would like to think that when we put ourselves in the hands of an airline crew that we are being taken care of by the likes of a Captain Sullenberger. And while I'm certain there are many excellent pilots flying today, I'm also certain that he is one of an elete few who cut no corners, take no chances and always remember the lives for which they are responsible daily.

Since this story broke I have been in awe of his humility. The comments he made after the incident on the Hudson were brief and humble. He never neglected to point out the team effort and took no credit for his own skill and experience. If ever there were a real American hero--here he is. His picture should be posted next to the word 'hero' in the dictionary.

This book helped me understand the whole man and beautifully illustrated that what happened on that fateful day was the culmination of a life well lived combined with extraordinary preparedness and depth of knowledge. Perhaps no other pilot had the combination of skill and experience to do the impossible. But that's what he did--winning him the respect of many of his own aviation idols.

If more folks took true pride in their performace--no matter their profession--imagine how great America could be again. I hope the days of our nation desiring to be great are not over. People like Chesley Sullenberger renew my faith that we can be a great country again, filled with people who excel and who care about their personal code of honor and about others. His story humbles us all.
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