In 1967, he was shot down over Vietnam and held as a POW for five-and-a-half years, earning him a Purple Heart. Today, he's one of the most outspoken members of the Senate.
After the events of Sept. 11, McCain says many people were living in fear and so he decided to write "Why Courage Matters." The book profiles both historic and ordinary individuals whom McCain sees as the best examples of what it means to triumph over adversity.
McCain tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler courage is something that can be acquired.
"I think we're born with a capacity to love," he says. "And if we are brought up right and we understand how important it is to love freedom and justice and equality and all of those good things and try to live up to them - we don't always succeed; I certainly haven't - then we will acquire courage and we will acquire the ability to be associated with a cause greater than ourselves."
The Arizona Republican offers stories, advice and inspiration - from acts of bravery on the battlefield to one woman's crusade to rid her neighborhood of drugs and violence.
Through their stories, he defines what he thinks courage is, why some people are able to persevere where others cannot, how to act courageously in our own lives, and the difference between fear and cowardice.
McCain notes, "I write about John Lewis, the famous civil rights leader. He loved social justice more than his own wellbeing, when he had his skull crushed by a sheriff's club. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma loves freedom and independence for her people more than her own welfare. I think Roy Benavidez, whom we write about, who was so heroic and was incredible, loved his country more than his own welfare. We can acquire it. It's like a muscle. It needs to be exercised."
Asked about what he thinks of's book, "Plan of Attack," in which Woodward claims that as early as Thanksgiving of 2001, the president was making plans for war with Iraq, including appropriating funds without Congress' knowledge, McCain says, "I think compliance with the strict interpretation of the rules of notification of Congress, I'm not sure that the way that business is usually done was observed.
"And after that, we did authorize. There was a vote in both houses of Congress to go to war with Iraq. Then it was certainly appropriate for them to do that. Seven hundred million dollars moved around from place to place is a lot of money," he says.
The senator says from the very beginning they were aware of what was going on. "We had the debate. The president requested an authorization. It was an overwhelming vote in both houses," McCain says. "But the mechanics of moving the money around, I think, will be the subject of a hearing, particularly in the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, sure, we knew what the president's plans were."
As for the war itself, April has turned out to be one of the deadliest months since the end of major combat. Nevertheless, McCain says the United States is on the right timetable, as the June 30th deadline approaches to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis.
He says, "The sooner we can pass the government over to the Iraqi people, the better off we are. We appreciate Mr. Brahimi's view and his assistance. [Lakhdar Brahimi is the U.N. special envoy for Iraq]. But the United States is going to be there for a long time. It's going to be a tough, hard slough. We shouldn't tell the American people anything else.
"I was over there last August, and met too many people who told me that we didn't have enough troops on the ground. We did not. We're paying a heavy price for that now. I think we need to have more troops there. And I think we need them there for a long time. We just had to do a very tough thing and that is extend people, who had already been there a year. They'll fight well. They're very brave. It's tough on families and servicemen and women when you're expecting to go home. We need to expand the size of the military. Most everybody recognizes that. And it's unfortunate that we didn't recognize the situation before, and we could have prevented some of this. But we can't afford to lose. We must win, and we must do what's necessary. And things don't always go as we hope in conflicts. That's why we try to avoid them," he explains.
As for his family, McCain tells Syler his wife, who recently had a stroke, is doing fine. "She's home. We expect a full recovery, and we're very grateful for all the thoughts and prayers that were extended on her behalf."