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We need people of ambition to save the world. And yet we also detest these self-serving maniacs. So how can we get on in life without feeling like we’ve got blood on our hands? A brilliantly readable and inspiring study of our love–hate relationship with ambition
Viv Groskop, author of How to Own the Room

Fair or Foul: The Lady Macbeth Guide to Ambition

Stefan Stern
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Publication Date: 25.07.2024
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We need people of ambition to save the world. And yet we also detest these self-serving maniacs. So how can we get on in life without feeling like we’ve got blood on our hands? A brilliantly readable and inspiring study of our love–hate relationship with ambition
Viv Groskop, author of How to Own the Room

Many of us wrestle with daunting life-choice questions from time to time: what should I be aiming for? Am I being ambitious enough? Has an excess of ambition led me astray?

Fair or Foul considers different aspects of ambition and its place in our lives. It asks: what does success mean? When is enough enough? And is Lady Macbeth right to suggest that only those with the 'illness' of ambition achieve the highest goals? Stefan draws on the major themes of Macbeth and discusses how they can be applied to modern life. Expect to discover how ambition and success work together, how attitudes have shifted over time, and how gender roles have an impact on our goals.

Incisive, contemporary and accessible, this book is for anyone who is looking for a change of direction or emphasis on how to move forward. It will also provide consolation, amusement and plenty of insightful meditations on the complex nature of ambition.


'Stefan is one of the best management writers out there, but this wise, compelling book is about a lot more than business. Wide-ranging in its references to everything from sport to literature, and dare I say it, ambitious in its ultimate aim, it encourages readers to ask profound questions about meaning and purpose' Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland

'This is a welcome blast of clear thinking about ambition and how we choose to lead our lives. Sometimes we kid ourselves that we can do really big, difficult jobs and still "have it all", and we can’t. Read it and work out what would be the best (and healthiest) option for you' Alastair Campbell, co-host of The Rest is Politics

'This is a book which is rich, witty and deeply thoughtful (not unlike a Shakespeare play). Stefan Stern has created a timely book about the meaning of life and work out of a timeless work of art. It's brilliant' Julia Hobsbawm, Bloomberg commentator and author of The Nowhere Office

Success

“…if th’assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success” (Act I sc vii)

Are you a success? It depends partly on what you were aiming for. England’s football team failed to win the European Championship in 2020 – bad – but did better than many expected by getting to the final – good. They failed and succeeded at the same time.

Success can be both relative and absolute. Your lifetime’s ambition might remain forever out of reach. You may never be awarded an Oscar, break the land speed record, or win the lottery. But you might do so much better and achieve more than sceptical teachers or unsupportive parents ever imagined. You may, simply by beating friends and contemporaries to a job, succeed where others, well, fail.

There can be no success without ambition. In the past we have measured success in material terms. These still matter. But we now have to find other ways to calibrate and celebrate success – “aspire not to have more but to be more”, as Archbishop Oscar Romero said. Success can take many forms, and meaningful ambition recognises this.

Who is the greater success: the millionaire entrepreneur who launched and then sold a business, or the family that has given everything away to live off the grid? Can anyone be said to have succeeded if the world is dying? Intelligent ambition in the 21st century has to be sustainable in every sense. This is the sort of success we need, and that is the challenge for our times.

Author

Updates

Update: 'I am settled'

Dear friends, 'I am settled, and bend up Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.' (Macbeth, Act I sc 7) Not long now – just four months to the publication of (note the tweaked title) Fair or Foul: ...

06.03.2024
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