December 8, 2005
Too many people don't read any books at all and some read only books
with lots of pictures and simple words. However, at the other end
of the spectrum, there are people who think nothing of digging into
books that run into multiple volumes. This column is for them.
of reading a multi-volume book can be daunting. But, as with other
daunting things, sometimes when you just go do it you find it
isn't nearly as much of a problem as you thought.
multi-volume work that I have ever read was Winston Churchill's
six-volume History of the Second World War. I got it
as a premium for joining one of the book clubs and thought it
would look good on the shelf. But I had no plans to read beyond
the first volume -- which was The Gathering Storm, a penetrating
history of the events leading up to World War II.
was such a great writer, however, as well as knowing the Second
World War inside out, that I kept reading to see what happened
next. Before I knew it, I was in the last volume, reading about
the return of peace and the beginning of the Cold War.
If you are
ever going to have a lot of time on your hands and like reading,
Churchill's history of World War II is the book to take on a trip
around the world or into your golden retirement years. It is in
paperback now, so it's not such a load to carry.
multi-volume book that I never expected to read all the way through,
but did, was The Americans by Daniel Boorstin. It is
in three volumes and gives a social history of the United States
from colonial times onward. It is a fascinating account of how
people lived and the inventions and innovations that changed Americans'
way of life from one generation to another.
readable book, The Americans shows how we got from there
to here. Again, I just got hooked in the first volume and couldn't
stop till I got all the way through it.
the most unlikely multi-volume book for me to read was the three-volume
autobiography of Herbert Hoover, who is best known for being President
of the United States when the stock market collapsed in 1929 and
the Great Depression of the 1930s began. Someone said that Herbert
Hoover was a great man but not a great president. That becomes
clear from reading his life story.
greatest achievements came before he ever entered politics. In
private industry, he became internationally renowned as an engineer.
Then, during the First World War he left his lucrative career
for an unpaid job, organizing massive food shipments to save millions
of people in Europe from malnutrition and starvation brought on
by the disruptions of the war.
his own fortune by ordering massive amounts of food before there
was enough money raised to pay for it, because he realized that
otherwise people would be dying while he was raising money. That
was a great man.
of reading about racial issues and racial leaders in the stereotyped
terms of good guys and bad guys, Uncle Toms and "militants,"
it was a refreshing change to read the two-volume biography of
Booker T. Washington by Lewis R. Harlan. If ever there was a complex
man with a tough mission and very little room for maneuver, it
was Booker T. Washington.
as a black leader during a period of major retrogression in race
relations in the South -- including both disenfranchisement and
lynchings of blacks. It was in this setting that Washington established
Tuskegee Institute in rural Alabama.
Washington walked a tightrope, knowing that one ill-conceived
statement from him could jeopardize not only the future of Tuskegee
Institute but ignite the whole volatile racial situation in the
could stir up a race war in Alabama in six weeks if I chose,"
he said, but to do so "would wipe out the achievements of
decades of labor."
the myth that Washington renounced civil rights, he never did.
The opening of his papers after his death revealed that he had
in fact fought for those rights behind the scenes and had even
secretly financed legal challenges to the Jim Crow laws.
and ingenuity of the man caused those who knew him to call him
"the wizard." More people can get to know him by reading
Professor Harlan's outstanding two-volume biography.
2005 Creators Syndicate