by Nelson Mandela, 1994
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
“The bold man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
by Jon Meacham, 2012
narrated by Edward Herrmann*
On to our third president! From the previous two biographies, I’ve gotten the notion of Thomas Jefferson as something of a contentious politician. Having drafted the Declaration of Independence and helped lead the country away from monarchy, TJ was as fierce a proponent of republicanism and anti-heredity as there ever was. His fears that the country would return to hereditary rule was one of his chief characteristics as a political leader and it was the cause of much of his conflict with John Adams. Additionally, Jefferson’s non-political ordeals – specifically, his fruitful relationship with his slave Sally Hemings – are now a part of the national consciousness and can no longer be ignored. He has always seemed to be a man of contradictions and, in The Art of Power, Jon Meacham presents him as exactly that.
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, 2016
It has been some time since I finished the second installment in the March series. At first I wondered why I had put off completing it for so long – I did, after all, rush out and buy all three at full price immediately after borrowing the first one from the library. But, after starting in again, I remembered why: this read was going to be a difficult one.
by Richard Beeman, ed., 2012
You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad. The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”
“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”
by Ron Chernow, 2010
I’ve never been much for reading biographies, so when I saw an acquaintance pledge to read a biography for each president last year I thought, that’s nice, but not for me. It wasn’t until I read this Book Riot piece, in the midst of our political upheaval, that I started to understand the reasoning behind the challenge. I, too, have felt woefully uneducated about our country’s history and, if the “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” aphorism has any truth to it – and I believe it does – then I need to learn me some history stat. That’s how I came to decide that I, too, would embark on the challenge to read a biography of each American president and hopefully offer a little less ignorance to the world.