From time to time on this blog I review books–and sometimes, like now, I am even sent books to review, which is always nice. Great Peacemakers: True Stories from Around the World by Ken Beller and Heather Chase is the 2007 winner of the International Peace Writing Award given by the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology. It is written by a unique husband and wife writing team. Ken Beller is co-founder and president of Near Bridge, Inc., a consulting firm that links “bottom line” profitability with values and specializes in promoting generational and cultural diversity, visionary leadership, and global sustainability. He is the lead author of the highly praised The Consistent Consumer: Predicting Future Behavior Through Lasting Values (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005). Heather Chase is founder of Models with Conscience, an international group of fashion models dedicated to promoting animal-friendly and environmentally-conscious products and causes–which is certainly not what comes to mind when one thinks of most fashion models!! Heather is the author of Beauty without the Beasts: A Guide to Cruelty-Free Personal Care (Lantern Books, 2001) which, as the title suggests, promotes beauty products that are developed without animal testing or the use of furs and skins.
Great Peacemakers is a collection of biographical sketches of 20 major workers for peace, justice, and a sustainable environment. The figures chosen range from the 19th to the 21st c. and come from various different cultural, racial/ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds. The “chapters” of biographical sketches are brief (only 2-3 pp. apiece) and are written simply. Because of this, it is just as appropriate for older children, adolescents, and young adults as for older readers.
Many of the figures profiled are instantly familiar to most people, such as Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Albert Schweitzer. Those familiar with the literature of peace and justice studies will not learn anything new in these chapters, but they are excellent introductions to folks for whom these are just names.
Other profiles are of people who are not as well known. I, for instance, had never heard of Andersan Sá, a singer and leader of the band AfroReggae from the slums (favelas) of Brazil who uses Afro-Reggae music to fight the drug trade and give young people from the favelas hope. And even though I have been heavily invested in Middle East peace work for years, I was completely unfamiliar with the life and work of Father Bruno Hussar, a Catholic priest born in Egypt of a Hungarian father and French mother (both non-practicing Jews), who created in 1969 Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam, an interfaith village known as an “Oasis of Hope” where Israelis and Palestinians (Jews, Muslims, and Christians) live in peace and which runs a School of Peace not only for children and adults in the Middle East, but for people in conflict situations around the world. Hussar and his village have repeatedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize since 1988, but this was my first introduction to them. Other folk, like the children’s author Astrid Lindgren, creator of the Pippi Longstocking books, are well known, but their peacemaking efforts are not as well known.
A significant feature of this gem of a book is the way that environmental concerns are deeply woven into work for peace and justice–a dimension overlooked in some standard peace literature. I expected that when the environmentalist was also known for more traditional peace work, as in the cases of Thoreau or Schweitzer, or when the person’s work had clearly connected ecological and peace concerns, such as with Jane Goodall or Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, but I had never considered the work of the ecologist Rachel Carson or the early British animal rights’ activist Henry Salt in terms of peacemaking. I was glad to be challenged to rethink these connections.
Brief quotes from each figure follow the biographical sketches, encouraging readers to pursue their writings for themselves. Excellent photos also accompany each chapter. At the back of the book, each chapter has endnotes (misnamed a bibliography) to writings or websites which is also helpful. Yet, this could have been made more helpful if a real bibliography had been added that had covered the major writings or standard biographies of the more prolific figures in these chapters. A few errors in fact creep in to some of the biographical sketches themselves (e.g., Martin Luther King did NOT go to Boston University immediately following his graduation from Morehouse College; King went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA–now merged with Colgate-Rochester to form Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY. It was only King’s Ph.D. in philosophical theology that he pursued at Boston University), but these are very few and seem to be a result of strict editing for brevity so that 20 people can be profiled.
I recommend this book not for scholars, but for those new to these fields. Hopefully, it wets appetites to learn more about several of these great peacemakers–or others. Our history books teach us the names of generals and dictators, but leave us ignorant of the pioneers of nonviolence, justice seeking, peacemaking, and ecological sustainability. As Colman McCarthy (one of the people profiled), journalist and teacher of peace, says, “Why are we violent but not illiterate? Because we are taught to read.” This is a nice introduction to the teaching of peacemaking in a very broad sense. It would make a great Christmas gift (or a gift for Channukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, etc.) or birthday gift.
P.S.: As Laura of Texas in Africa reminds us, it is World HIV/AIDs Day. Wear your red ribbons, contribute to organizations working for cures, vaccines, and better treatment, support AIDs ministries (especially prevention), contribute to organizations caring for victims, for the children of parents with AIDs, etc. Lobby for BigPharma companies to make cheap generic anti-retro-virals available easily in developing countries. Let’s struggle to end this demonic plague–and to care for the victims until we do–even those who contracted the disease through promiscuity or drug use because we all sin. We must see HIV/AIDs not as God’s judgment, but as our opportunity to care for each other in a world that includes pain, suffering, and death, along with beauty.
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