“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. “Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
In a profoundly important sense, no two human beings ever step to the music of life in identical ways. That’s because each one of us is his or her own uniquely singular amalgam of ideas, thoughts, traits, responses, and endless other elements that comprise our personalities. No evidence in history exists to suggest that the same person lived twice, a further testimony to the differences that make each one of us incomparable and unequaled.
When I study history, I focus on biography. I want to know who the notable people were who inspired movements, left remarkable impacts, even changed history itself. Not all those movements and impacts were positive, so I study bad people as well as good ones. In this anthology, the good outnumber the bad but we can learn from them all.
From Roman history, you will read here about the evil of Caligula and the good of Telemachus. From the British experience, you will be entertained by the beer maker Arthur Guinness, uplifted by female abolitionists and nurses like Edith Cavell, educated by theologian C.S. Lewis, and inspired by liberty-loving statesmen such as Edmund Burke and Robert Peel. From the French Revolution, you will be heartened by the courage of Olympe de Gouges and appalled by the lunacy of Francois-Noel Babeuf. You will find Russia’s Solzhenitsyn to be as exhilarating as the Peróns of Argentina and Abimael Guzman of Peru and Che Guevara of Cuba are depressing.
More than half of the 33 people I write about in this anthology were Americans—from the days of the nation’s founding to the 20th century. Some are genuine heroes, like aviator Bessie Coleman, musician Nat King Cole, entrepreneur Milton Hershey, economist Pelatiah Webster, and FEE’s founder, Leonard Read. I managed to work in Ralph Lazo, Rube Foster, Diamond Jim Brady, John Stetson and Calvin Coolidge too.
Fascinating people from other countries are to be found herein as well—notably, Jenny Lind from Sweden and Melitta Bentz from Germany.
In every case, the good and bad people in this book made a mark. Their lives teach lessons. We can learn from them even though separated by time, miles and culture. Ultimately, this is what history should be: People today being informed by people who came before.