189 Long Walk to Freedom

longwalktofreedomeby 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.”

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185 When Breath Becomes Air

whenbreathby Paul Kalanithi, 2016

There has been an enormous amount of press surrounding neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-six. Making the press even more poignant is the knowledge that the book was published after Kalanithi’s death. This wasn’t a memoir from someone writing years later, who looked death in the face and vowed to beat it. This was from a person who looked death in the face and did the only thing they could: accepted it. It’s not by any means an easy topic to grapple with, but Kalanithi’s clear, direct writing renders this difficult journey one that should not be missed.

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179 Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

tjartofpowerby 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.

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155 John Adams

johnadamsby David McCullough, 2001

In this second presidential biography, David McCullough provides a sweeping narrative of John Adams’s life. History seems to have largely forgotten Adams – there are no monuments to his name, his birthday is not a national holiday, his face does not appear on any form of currency. McCullough’s biography attempts to correct that mistake, giving modern readers a thorough account not just of his presidency, but all that he accomplished in the years leading up to it. If, at times, I felt a bit fatigued by the extent of McCullough’s detail, this was made up for by the fact that his life contained as much drama as, well, an HBO miniseries.

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154 We Were Eight Years in Power

eightyearsinpowerby Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2017

“Required reading” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot these days, but it’s still the phrase I would use to describe the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was with bated breath that I placed a hold on his new book a month prior to its publication and I gleefully picked it up from the library on the day it was released. I had thoroughly enjoyed Between the World and Me and was excited to get my hands on this collection of essays. Now, perhaps because I had just read Michael Eric Dyson, whose dynamism cannot be matched, or perhaps because I had such pent up anticipation, which never leads to anything but disappointment, I found I was less enamored of this book than I expected I would be. I hadn’t realized this wouldn’t be new material and, accordingly, it did not attack the subject manner in the way I had assumed it would. I don’t read The Atlantic, so while the material was new to me and I was glad to be able to access it in a collected volume, I felt that they didn’t quite come together to paint a cohesive picture. But, there is still so much to be gained from Coates’s words and I will argue with anyone that his voice is a necessary one in our world today.

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152 Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

tearswecannotstopby Michael Eric Dyson, 2017
narrated by the author

It may seem difficult to determine to whom, exactly, Michael Eric Dyson is addressing his sermon in Tears We Cannot Stop. The subtitle may be, “A Sermon to White America,” but I have to doubt that many white Americans will be interested in his words. This is not because I believe that the majority of white Americans are uncaring or lack compassion, but the truth is that we tend to gravitate toward things with which we directly relate. In fact, that’s the whole spirit of the Read Harder Challenge – to get us to read material that is vastly different from what usually occupies our minds. (I’d add to this that part of the problem is that most people don’t read, but that’s another argument for another day.) So, in addressing his book to an audience that it likely won’t reach, is Dyson simply preaching to the choir?

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150 I Am Malala

malalaby Malala Yousafzai, 2013
narrated by Archie Panjabi

I recently moved from an area replete with public transportation to an area that, well, has absolutely no public transportation at all. This means that I’ve had to start to driving. While that’s brought its own challenges (the last time I drove was probably around 2005), it’s also taken away those precious minutes when I used to read on my commute. The obvious solution here is to start listening to audiobooks, but that isn’t as easy for me as it may be for some. One of the things I particularly love about reading is absorbing an author’s beautiful language and imagining the scene unfurl in my mind. That is taken away when someone else narrates and adds their own inflection to the words. I am also very much a visual learner and I often feel that I don’t hold onto information that I hear with nearly the strength that I do with information I see. Yet, spending the 30 minutes I drive to work each day listening to the radio seems a bit of a waste, so I am doing my best to convert myself into an audiobook lover. I Am Malala was my first choice for this, with the reason being that I believed I wouldn’t miss the experience of reading as much with a nonfiction book. I was also able to borrow the ebook from the library, so after my drive I could skim over the sections I heard and highlight what stood out to me. My audiobook conversion is still a process, but it’s one I’m hoping I master. Now, onto the book.

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