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 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.
by 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.
by 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?
by W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903
There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.