William Damon, Professor of Education at Stanford University, and Anne Colby, Consulting Professor at Stanford University, argue that there is too limited a view of human nature in the new science of moral psychology which makes too much out of "biological reductionism." They see in this trend a cynical view of human morality.

Damon and Colby emphasize the active, ideal-seeking and motivated moral self. They feel that this understanding can best be appreciated through an analysis of the words, deeds, and life histories of six men and women widely respected for moral leadership during the twentieth century.

The authors begin with Jane Addams who opened the doors of the twentieth century with her ideas about democracy and her progressive passion for social change. Nelson Mandela modeled for people around the world a special brand of justice and the big-hearted spirit of forgiveness.

The other four figures have different gifts. Dag Hammarskjold was committed to inner truthfulness. Abraham Joshua Heschel's religion served as a seedbed for an understanding of the sacredness of life and human rights. Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to his death with grace, peace, and dignity. And Eleanor Roosevelt forged a creative approach to human rights internationally.

Damon and Colby see the virtues of inner truthfulness, humility, and faith as invaluable spiritual resources for leaders of all stripes. They provide a full and rich assessment of these virtues and go on to explore why people struggle with honesty, the importance of open-mindedness, and the personal and societal benefits of humility. They conclude with a tribute to faith as "a source of serenity and courage in the face of extreme circumstances, danger, and death."