Adam Drake

Notes on The Anatomy of Courage

Just a quick summary as I don’t really have detailed notes for this book.

The Anatomy of Courage is a quick read, and is interspersed with anecdotal accounts from Moran’s time as a doctor in the trenches in World War 1. The interesting part about books such as this is the applicability of the ideas contained therein to the workplace. The book says “Courage is will-power, whereof no man has an unlimited stock…” In other words, for this book courage can be considered the will to continue an action in the face of danger or other difficulties. That general examination allows for the conclusions of the book to be applied to parts of life other than warfare.

The first part, The Discovery of Fear is a brief overview on the causes of fear and how they contribute to the degradation of courage. This includes the power of the imagination for influencing positive or negative emotions, cowardice (which is not simply fear or avoiding that which makes you afraid), and how moods can have a variety of effects on emotional stability and performance. It’s more or less about the effects of personal and unit morale on performance.

Section two covers a variety of ways in which courage, the will to continue fighting, is expended. These include things like lack of rest, exposure to the elements or harsh conditions, isolation at sea, and so on. There is special attention paid to the acts of pilots, who at that time were still a relatively new part of modern warfare and who in some ways have additional concerns due to not only the risk of losing their lives due to enemy actions, but also due to poor reliability of their equipment. It also covers the demotivating effects of monotony and constant exposure to death. The last part is debatable as a negative factor in maintaining courage, as many Eastern philosophical schools (e.g., Buddhism) and ancient Geek and Roman schools (e.g., Stoicism) encourage frequent consideration of death and negative things as a way to appreciate what you have.

The third section, The Care and Management of Fear, deals with exactly that. It considers what can be done about reducing fear and maintaining courage in areas of Selection, Discipline, The Support of Numbers, and Leadership. Of these, I would conclude Leadership to be the most important, as selection of people, maintaining and encouraging of discipline, and having proper numbers of people in place is the responsibility of any leader.

Overall the book has some good parallels to challenges in the workplace. Although they are not of the life-and-death variety experienced in the trenches of World War 1, some of the basic human tendencies in stress management are similar in both environments. Additionally, there are sections peppered throughout the book on what to look for when someone has lost the will to continue fighting, and how that is a very dangerous situation not just for the individual but also for their unit. In the workplace, this would translate to someone giving up on their job, perhaps starting to look for another one, dragging down the morale of the team, but not quitting.