Tag Archives: Classics

By reputation and enjoyment.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man

Written by: Ralph Ellison

Narrated by: Joe Morton


Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.

To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama. He fails to graduate and moves to New York. He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII. He eschews communism after the war while living in New York. He becomes acquainted with other writers like Richard Wright who expose discrimination in its abomination. In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.


The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor.  Every line reflects understanding and relevant emotion.  In just reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison wrote is missed.  Morton offers clarity and visibility in his narration.

In outline, this story follows the path of Ellison’s life.  The book’s hero is expelled from college in his Junior year and moves to New York.  The reason for his expulsion is an aspect of discrimination and its consequence.


A rich, white financial benefactor of the university is being shown around by Ellison’s “Invisible Man”.  Through a series of incidents, the white supporter becomes embroiled in the reality of human poverty in a black community.  His immersion exposes a black father’s incestuous relationship with his daughter.  However, the story’s inference is that incest is not limited to the poor; i.e. the benefactor’s reaction to the story implies a similar act in his life.  The University benefactor appears overwhelmed by the black father’s story.  He is emotionally and physically shaken.  He asks the “Invisible Man” to get him a shot of liquor.  Because they are far from town, the only place for a drink is a seedy bar in the neighborhood.  In trying to please the university’s patron, the “Invisible Man” embroils the rich man in a bar fight.  No one is killed but the experience illustrates how discrimination relegates parts of society to a life of poverty, anxiety, and despair.  Many of the characters in the bar seem crazy. They seem consumed by fear, hate, boredom, or frustration.

—————–HARLEM RIOT 1964 (133RD ST. AND SEVENTH AVE.)—————————

Upon returning to the University, the patron tells the “Invisible Man” to have the President of the school come see him in his room.  Dutifully, the “Invisible Man” calls the President and is condemned for showing the patron to a part of town that shows some of black America’s reality.  The University President expels the “Invisible Man” for a mistake he believes he did not make.

The President tells him he did make a mistake.  He could have shucked and jived to steer the patron away from the reality of being black in the south.  The President is telling him he must “play the game”.  This is a statement about the complexity and disastrous effects of discrimination.  A respected black leader is saying—if you want to get ahead, you must hide who you are, play by a white man’s rules, and interpret everything a white person says to mean you don’t matter.  Then act like you believe it, but keep your own counsel.

The “Invisible Man” accepts the University’ expulsion and understands the President’s reasons for expelling him.  He asks the President for letters of recommendation to rich patrons he knows in New York.  The “Invisible Man” plans to get a job in New York that will allow him to come back to the school after a year of exile.  The President agrees and writes several letters, seals them, and tells him not to open them.


In New York, all but one letter is delivered to offices of potential white employers.  No job interviews are offered.  With a last letter in hand, the “Invisible Man” insists on seeing the white patron that the letter is addressed to.  He is interviewed by the son of the business owner who offers to show the letter to him.  The letter is a condemnation of the “Invisible Man” by the black University President who has no intention of ever allowing him to return to the University.

With no job, no prospects, and dwindling savings, the “Invisible Man” realizes he is screwed; i.e.  not only white America denies his existence, but Blacks-in-power accept white-cultural-rules and screw him; just like other racists in America.

Dr. Blesoe, the black University President is saying: “Play the game, but play it your own way, my boy.  Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”  The inference is to act like a toady to white culture to gather money, power, and prestige while keeping your own counsel.  Never let your guard down.  When you have power, you can selfishly guard it by being the equal of white racist when confronted by minorities who might challenge you.


Both black leaders in power and whites deny equality of opportunity.  There seems nowhere to turn.  That is until Ellison describes a story about a black family’s eviction in Harlem.  With that incident, the “Invisible Man” becomes visible.  Relying on his education and previous speech-making experience, the “Invisible Man” addresses a crowd around a dispossessed family and sparks a Harlem’ riot.

Members of “The Brotherhood” are in the audience.  The leader of “The Brotherhood” is impressed by the “Invisible Man’s” ability to motivate the crowd.  The leader offers him a job.  At first, it seems like the dawning of a new life, an opportunity to prosper while doing good for himself and the community.  In the end, it is just another game.


The game is the “science” of collectivism; i.e. what is important is not the individual but the collective.  Whomever does not play the game by the rules is sacrificed.  He/she is either ostracized, or murdered, if the rules of the collective are disobeyed.  If the collective is challenged by a minority, the minority is sacrificed.  The suicide, or murder of an individual is of no consequence except as it benefits or hurts the collective.


When a riot breaks out in Harlem, the “Invisible Man” expects “The Brotherhood” to be supportive of the plight of the poor and dispossessed but what he finds is that “The Brotherhood” is happy to see the destruction because it advances their collective objective; i.e. the destruction of the State and its replacement by “The Brotherhood”.  They care nothing for the black community.

Ellison cogently reflects on his life to explain that the individual is of supreme importance; i.e., not the collective, not white culture, not black culture, but only the individual within the whole of humanity.

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom.  Human beings playing the game by rules of a collective is as harmful to minorities as slavery.  Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination.  In reality, invisibility is a symptom of American apathy that encourages discrimination. Small activist groups elect populists who pander to extremist views.

Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation.  He ends his story by suggesting the “Invisible Man” will soon awaken to become an involved individual.  One is skeptical of Ellison’s pronouncement.  It is easier to be invisible.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Written by: Friedrich Nietzsche

Narrated by: Alex Jennings with Jon Cartwright

The famous literary announcement that “God is Dead” releases the ape in the city.  “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” argues that human beings have moved away from God; particularly a Christian God.    Friedrich Nietzsche is saying that without God and the church, a new morality must–needs to be designed by man.   The ape is the ruler that thinks he/she knows better than his/her citizens.  In the 21st century, humanity has generally moved away from organized religion.

————————————-CHANGE IN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS———————————-

To Nietzsche, humankind’s quest is to evolve beyond populism; beyond reliance on majority opinion and theological teaching, and toward a belief in the ability of individuals to rationally order the world. However, Nietzsche’s idea of liberating what he believes to be the potential of mankind, historically leads to the ape in the city; i.e. leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin who slaughtered millions during and after WWII.

One should not be comforted by belief that it is only WWII’s ape creations.  Nietzsche’s idea in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” strikes at the heart of all known forms of government and organized religion.  Whether democratic, fascist, communist, Catholic, Islamic, Judaic or any other major government or religion—each makes and enforces plans for others.  As is shown in all histories, when plans are made for others, they inherently discriminate against individuals because of either race, color, or creed. All known forms of government and religion create apes in the city because of what Nietzsche identifies as “a will to power”.   

Nietzsche’s philosophy is grounded in individualism.  Every human being has a “will to power”.  The exercise of that power is to evolve, in Nietzsche’s mind, to create a society that is ruled from the bottom up rather than from a higher-power down.

AYN RAND (1905-1982)

Nietzsche became a seer for anarchist philosophers that carry the idea of socialist anarchy to the same extreme that capitalist ideologues like Ayn Rand carry the idea of “self-interest”.

DESCENT OF MAN (Nietzsche believes the weak will parish and only the strong-willed will survive.)

Both views of the world are coming from an absurdist idealist’s perspective.  Both ignore the truth of human nature.  The difference is that Nietzsche believes humanity will evolve beyond history’s apes in the city.  He believes the weak will parish and only the strong-willed will survive.  Nietzsche ends “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” with a poem that professes his greatest love is for future generations and his belief that the “will to power” will evolve into an empathetic care for all humankind.


Evidence for empathetic care for humankind seems scarce considering the world’s current leaders.  Humankind remains driven by money, power, and prestige and those in the driver’s seat rule in what they perceive is their best interest; i.e. still built from the top down; not from the bottom up.


Nietzsche may be right; i.e. growth of human care for others may be a matter of time and human evolution.  Maybe, our greatest love should be for future generations.  However, considering how society treats youth throughout most of the world today, love seems wanting.


There is little historical proof that bottom up power structures create either social, economic, or political harmony; let alone unity over extended periods of time.  Even familial relationships continue to break down in modern post-industrial societies.  Families have been the first and oldest form of social organization.  But, the exigencies of modern living  require both parents to work, divorce to proliferate, wars to kill, and children to be left behind.

Human nature seems immutable.  If “will to power” is an individual characteristic, historically, it lends itself more to hierarchical than egalitarian societies.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com


Written by: Voltaire

Narrated by: Jack Davenport


Naiveté has become synonymous with Voltaire’s Candide.  Candide accepts a philosophy of life taught by a fool.  Voltaire creates Pangloss, a tutor and mentor to Candide.  To Pangloss, there is no evil in the world because God created the world and what happens to God’s creation only reflects “the best of all possible worlds”.  Not even Thomas Aquinas’s argument that man has free-will carries any moral or religious weight in Voltaire’s eyes.  Voltaire attacks Aquinas’s free-will dicta with stories of unprovoked rape, human enslavement, and ministerial perfidy.

Voltaire is not denying the existence of a Supreme Being or free-will in Candide but objects to intellectualization of evil by creating a story filled with ironic, tragi-comic human events.  Women are raped, and forced into prostitution.  Both men and women are enslaved. Clergy use their office to despoil women.  Voltaire implies life’s outcomes, whether good or bad, are not spiritually compensated by heaven or hell.  The inference is that living is a struggle for all human beings and that human’s nature largely revolves around self-interest.

No human being is saintly in Voltaire’s world.  Human beings are naturally good and bad.  The characters in Candide illustrate extremes of humankind. There is Martin who is highly intelligent but wholly pessimistic, and there is Candide who is gullible and wholly optimistic.  Everyone in Martin’s world is dishonest and untrustworthy.  Though Martin is shown to be frequently right in his predictions of bad behavior of others, he is also wrong in arguing humans act only out of perceived self-interest.

Voltaire creates Cacambo, who appears as intelligent as Martin, but shows himself to be trustworthy and honest in his dealings with the naïve and gullible Candide.  Cacambo represents an eternal optimist who acts as representative for saving Candide’s lady love, a woman broken and abused who suffers the ravages of age beyond her years.  Though Candide’s lady love has lost her looks, he feels honor bound to marry and remain her husband.


At first, it appears Voltaire suggests life is a consequence of pessimism and optimism. However, by the end of Voltaire’s satire, one understands pessimism and optimism are only turns of human nature’s roulette wheel.  The life of a single human being is like the momentum of a ball circling a roulette wheel.  The ball arbitrarily drops into a slot that affects one’s life.

In the end, Voltaire implies neither pessimism nor optimism perfectly captures life.  His last words on the subject come from Candide’s comment about “tending one’s own garden”.  It seems pessimism and optimism are of no consequence to the person that tends their own garden.  “Nose to the grindstone” is Voltaire’s prescription for a life well spent. It is “tending one’s own garden” that gives meaning to life.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Decameronthe decameron

Written by: Giovanni Boccaccio

Narration by:  Frederick Davidson


“The Decameron” is a series of stories about the western world’s comic/tragic society.  Compiled or written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, it recalls 100 stories told by seven women and three men over a period of ten days. “The Decameron” pictures humanity as subject to luck, avarice, and lust.  Each story implies human relationship is determined by circumstance, and informed by nature.  The circumstance is societal position and the moment of experience.  Nature is the exigency of the emotive moment.

Written during or after the spread of the Black Death (1346-53), “The Decameron” skewers belief that God determines one’s fate.  The stories range from raucous to sedate, to sinful and salacious.

Each story implies humans are like wood chips loosed on the sea.  Humans float into and away from society’s harbor; toward and away from each other, driven by happenstance and nature.  Men are often depicted as lustful beasts; women as lustful manipulators of chance and circumstance.  Corruption of morals is as evident in the priesthood as in the lay public.  In Boccaccio’s world, God may have created the universe but everything after the seventh day is driven by chance and nature.

All stories are of tradesmen, merchants, upper class men and women who have the luxury of exercising desires in life; i.e. desires beyond the necessity of food to eat and shelter to protect.  Women are generally shown as weaker than men but also as clever clandestine operatives.  Women and men living above the level of abject poverty seem equally consumed by interest in love and lust.  Considering the history of human misogyny, love and lust may have been women’s principle source of security.  Love seems riven with lust in men while more frequently used as a tool of manipulation by women.

Neither the church or the lay public are shown to be morally superior.  The priesthood and upper-class laymen use the tools of wealth, power, and prestige to seduce women.  In contrast women use guile and sexual favor to clandestinely acquire the same earthly desires.  The exception is the wealthy widow that has some control over unforeseen consequences of chance.

The comic/tragic events of the stories offer a view of what it is like to live during the dark ages.  Some priest’s use the confessional to seduce women; nuns are found to sleep with Bishops.  Power, not surprisingly, lies in the hands of men but the fairer sex is shown capable of co-opting power with charm and cunning.  Revenge seems equally distributed between the sexes but consequentially more severe for women than men.

There are some insights to history and society offered by “The Decameron”.  A clever decision by a military strategist is to refashion bows and arrows with smaller slits than common.  The result is that enemy bow carriers on one side of a battle are unable to use arrows invented with smaller slit arrows.  But, the wide slit arrows could still be used by soldiers with small slit bows.  This small bow and arrow innovation gave one side of the battle twice the ammunition of the opposition.

More interesting insights are the rise of a middle class in the dark ages, and the early recognition of organized religion’s corruption.  God is still considered as all-powerful but organized religion is rife with the same sins of all human beings.  Women may have been treated as second class citizens but they still found ways to compete in the drive for money, power, and prestige.  Then and now, cuckold and adulteress share equal billing for shame.  However, the double standard for men that wander, and women that survive adultery is shown as appalling unequal then as it is now.  Men are forgiven while women are brutalized (sometimes murdered) and left to deal with the consequences of childbirth and poverty.

Finally, there is the underlying theme of nature and happenstance that determine the course of life.  Among Boccaccio’s followers, there is belief in God but only as Creator.  Humankind is on its own in stories of “The Decameron”.  Some suggest Boccaccio is among the first humanist writers (a system of thought emphasizing the human rather than the divine).  Buffering by nature pushes and pulls humankind with chance circumstances of the day.  Rich, poor, saintly, and heathen are equally decimated by the plague. God seems to have washed His hands of what happens on earth.  Plans of man are perceived as changed by nature’s unpredictability; not by God.

Though some may be entertained by this presentation of “The Decameron”, it is not to this critic’s taste.  It is too long.  It is delivered monotonously.  It elicits little laughter.  It ponderously consumes thirty hours of a listener’s time.  However, as noted above, it offers a remarkable picture of life in an era of western world’ upheaval (consequence of the black plague) and change (from God’s plan to the unpredictability of nature).

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Souls of Black FolkTHE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK

Written by: W. E. B. Du Bois

Narration by:  Mirron Willis


“The Souls of Black Folk” describes a veil of discrimination that covers the face of white America.  Published in 1903, it reflects on the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, America’s reconstruction failures after the civil war, and a veil that fell like an iron curtain between black and white America.  It is a veil that distorts the truth of human equality.

W. E. B. Du Bois is a great American who finally abandoned his country late in life because he could no longer tolerate the capitalist consequence of social, political, and economic discrimination. He describes discrimination in “The Souls of Black Folk” as a veil, a fine gauzy material that hides the details of black Americans who have the same potential as their white counterparts. The details are in the political, social, and economic discrimination imposed by a majority on a minority.  Du Bois identifies that minority as people of color; i.e. specifically black Americans.


Du Bois is the first black American to receive a PhD from Harvard University.  He received a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University, a storied black college; went to Harvard to receive a second bachelor’s degree, and on to a PhD.  With that education, Du Bois studied black history and wrote “The Souls of Black Folk” to explain what it is like to be black in America.  He began with the end of the civil war and carries it through 1903 when the book is published.

DISCRIMINATION  (Du Bois explains how black Americans are treated, how they feel about it, and how they react to it.)

Du Bois explains how black Americans are treated, how they feel about it, and how they react to it.  In the clarity of his writing, Du Bois presumes readers will understand humans, of any color, are the same.  Du Bois notes that, after the Civil War, black Americans are offered freedom without a way of making a living, without education, and without any respect by fellow Americans.  Though they were no longer slaves by law they remain slaves to potential employers who see them as less than equal, and less capable.  Du Bois notes blacks are denied the tools of education, opportunity for work at a living wage, and the right to participate in the politics of leadership.  Without money, power, or prestige blacks are left with deception as their only defense against oppression.  “Shucking and jiving” became a pejorative description of black behavior without white’s understanding its necessity; i.e. without deception, blacks were subject to rape, lynching, and economic isolation.


It is little wonder that Du Bois wandered to the idealism of communism with its false promise of equality for all.  White America is offering Negroes little alternative.  However, Du Bois misreads history.  The revolution of 1917 may have started with a minority of people called Bolsheviks but they were a part of a white majority.  They promised a future of plenty to an uneducated population who were members of a majority.  Not only did Du Bois misunderstand the difference between Russian and Chinese revolutions and American capitalism, but he misread a future that proves “promises of communism” are false.  This does not change the truth of Du Bois’s realization that a white American majority denies minorities equal rights and equality of opportunity.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (1856-1915, Du Bois, on the one hand praises Booker T. Washington for his accomplishment; on the other hand Du Bois chastises Washington for being an apologist for white suppression. )

Du Bois clearly shows how black American education, employment, and political participation are subverted at every turn in American history.  Du Bois, on the one hand praises Booker T. Washington for his accomplishment; on the other hand Du Bois chastises Washington for being an apologist for white suppression. Du Bois sees education is improving for black Americans, but minorities are still denied equal opportunity for employment, and are failing to grab political power.  Nearing 90 years of age, Du Bois gives up on America.  Ironically, this is in the 1960’s when the Black Panther movement is forming, and Martin Luther King is gathering white and black America together.

Du Bois is a great American because he understood how American capitalism undermines core political beliefs like equality of opportunity and the equality of all human beings.  The inherent nature of man “to be greedy” makes fools of us all.  Du Bois understood the importance of education, economic opportunity, and political power.  He misunderstood that the drive for money, power, and prestige distorts pursuit of the “good” in all forms of government.  Communism, socialism, and capitalism require a Hobson’s choice; i.e. “a choice of taking what is available or nothing at all”.  Even for minorities, it seems capitalism offers the best hope because it attempts to regulate the worst parts of human nature.

Du Bois Speech April 9, 1960 when in his ninety’s.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com


Written by: Sinclair Lewis 

Narration by:  Grover Gardner


Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt” is categorized as a satire, a parody of life during the roaring twenties, but its story seems no exaggeration of a life in the 20th or 21st century.  Published in 1922, it is considered a classic.  It is said to have influenced Lewis’s award of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930.  (Lewis is the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.)  Lewis is highly praised for describing American culture.  “Babbitt” is the eighth of thirteen novels Lewis published by 1930.  Lewis creates a body of work that intimately exposes strengths and weaknesses of American democracy and capitalism.

Reader/listeners are introduced to George F. Babbitt, a man in his forties.  Babbitt is a realtor.  He is financially successful; bored, but not unhappy in his married-with-children’ life.  His best friend, Paul, is equally bored, less financially successful, but deeply unhappy in his marriage.  Paul is harried by a wife that men categorize as shrewish.  Babbitt’s best friend chooses to cheat on his wife.  When Babbitt finds Paul in a clandestine meeting at a Chicago restaurant, he waits for him at a hotel to try to understand what is happening.  In a male-bonding moment Babbitt forgives Paul and agrees that his friend’s wife is a shrew.  Babbitt offers to mislead Paul’s betrayed wife by lying about her husband’s out-of-town business trip.  Later, the spurned wife argues with Paul and is shot in the shoulder.  Babbitt sticks by his friend after he is convicted and sentenced to prison for three years.

After a year of his friend’s incarceration, Babbitt tries to get the spurned wife to forgive her husband and petition the parole board to release Paul early.  She neither forgives nor forgets.  She chastises Babbitt for his deluded belief that her husband deserves any leniency.  This may have been a satirical vignette but it seems more like real life; i.e. where women are rarely viewed as equal to men, and are expected by many to forgive men for violent treatment.

In his mid-forties Babbitt becomes more restless.  He rationalizes infidelity and discounts the value of his wife and family.  He chooses to cheat on his wife because he feels his wife does not understand him.  Babbitt deludes himself with the idea that another sexual relationship is his right and that it will not hurt anyone. One may presume this is another satirical vignette but how many men rationalize their way to extra marital affairs today.

Lewis, through his characters, infers there is a struggle for fair, if not equal treatment,for women, even in the 1920s.  In “Babbitt”, Lewis never gives women a role as superiors or equals that might have intellectual interests in government, society, or culture.  Rather, Lewis suggests women feign interest in a man’s thoughts for the desire of companionship, attention, affection; rather than intellectual stimulation or sexual gratification.  Men are shown to classify women as shrewish because they are pushing husbands to be more expressive and attentive. There are many ways of interpreting Lewis’s intent but this is not satire, it is a truth of many men’s view of women.

An underlying theme in “Babbitt” is the inequality of American capitalism.  Women and most minorities are less equal because they are either not in the work force, or in the work force at a lower wage.  The union movement is struggling for recognition in the 1920s because of low wages being paid by business owners.  Lewis suggests Babbitt begins to modify his opinion about the labor movement as he becomes entangled in the lives of less successful Americans like Paul and a woman who becomes Babbitt’s lover.  This is a kind of private revolution in Babbitt’s upper middle class conservatism.

Wealthy capitalist see the answer to the union movement is electing a business President that cracks down on unions.  Capitalists who have money and power classify the union movement as anarchic, communist, and/or socialist.  Babbitt senses there is something wrong when he sees some union supporters are from the educated class.  What makes Lewis’s observations fascinating is that they are written when America is in the midst of the roaring twenties; before the beginning of the Great Depression.  In the early 1920s, capitalism seems to be a tide raising all boats when in fact it is a torpedo being readied for launch.

Babbitt experiences peer pressure that causes him to recant his private revolutionary beliefs; i.e. fellow businessman’s perception of his union sympathy.  Babbitt eventually returns to the fold of do-nothing conservatism.  He recants his libertine ways and returns to hearth and home. But Lewis offers a twist by having Babbitt’s son shock the family by rebelling against standards of upper middle class life.  He decides to drop college and marry without the blessings of his family or church.  George F. Babbitt is the only family member who wholeheartedly supports his son’s unconventional act.

Lewis writes in the midst of a burgeoning American industrial revolution.  It seems what happened in the 1920s is similar to what is happening today.  The industrial revolution is now the technology revolution; women are still undervalued, many Americans want a business President elected, and unions are being busted.  Today’s young men and women are still breaking social conventions.  The stage seems set.  One hopes 2015 is not America’s new roaring twenties; pending another economic crash.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your LifeBooks That Have Made History

Written by: Professor Rufus J. Fears

Lecture by:  Professor Rufus J. Fears


Rufus Fears is an excellent story-teller.  “Books That Have Made History” is a series of lectures given by Professor Fears that dwells too much on God but delightfully entertains all who are interested in living life well.  (Professor Fears died in October of 2012.)


An irony of Fears lecture series about “Books that can Change Your Life” is his most revered historical figures, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus, never wrote a book.  He thematically presents a story that argues these three figures are witnesses to the truth.  Fears believes Confucius’s, Socrates’, and Jesus’s truths have been played out and proven over centuries of writings and doings.  Those writings and doings are recorded in secular and religious texts that range from Homer, to Plato, to the “Bible”, to the “Koran”, to “The Prince”, to Winston Churchill, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Socrates (469-470 BC-339 BC-estimated age 71)
Socrates (469-470 BC-339 BC-estimated age 71)

Fears begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who insists on returning to Germany to protest Hitler’s totalitarian dictatorship.  As a Lutheran pastor and theological scholar, Bonhoeffer publicly denounced Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  He was arrested in 1943 and transferred to a Nazi concentration camp and executed in April 1945.


Bonhoeffer is a symbol of moral and physical courage in the face of injustice.  This is Fears jumping off point in arguing that theism as professed by secular and religious texts are “Books That Can Change Your Life”.

Justice, courage, moderation and belief that “wisdom comes from suffering” come from Homeric literature, the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Plato’s “Republic”, the King James Version of the bible, and the holy Koran.  Fears emphasizes the transcendent impact of “Book of Exodus”, “Gospel of Mark”, and “Book of Job” as they become memes for moral belief.

In the “Book of Exodus” Fears notes the story of Moses and how Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery, a story repeated throughout history by the courage of moral leaders who fought injustice.  The “Gospel of Mark” tells the story of Jesus, the sins of man, and the redemptive powers of forgiveness, and justice.  The “Book of Job” symbolizes life as a struggle but, in struggle, one gains wisdom through faith in something greater than oneself.

PLATO (428-427B.C.-348-347 B.C.-EST. AGE AT DEATH 80)
PLATO (428-427B.C.-348-347 B.C.-EST. AGE AT DEATH 80)

Fears draws from many cultures to explore “Books That Have Made History”.  He explains how the “Bhagavad Gita” identifies truth as a divine power and how stories like Gilgamesh and Beowulf suggest life is destiny, fated when one is born; while Aeschylus believes life is a matter of free will.

Plato posits a duality of being.  Plato describes the mortal body and immortal soul.  Fears notes that many religious and secular writings reinforce Plato’s concept of human duality.


The immortal soul is terribly and beautifully rendered in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.  Dante describes the torments souls endure if mortal life is lived in sin, but offers belief in redemption.  Buddhist belief in reincarnation offers a road to peace or continued struggle.  A Buddhist soul’s reincarnation may be as a beast if one’s former life is filled with sin.  But as each new life approaches enlightenment, it offers opportunity for peace without struggle in a spiritual life that requires no further incarnations.

GEORGE ORWELL (1903-1950)
GEORGE ORWELL (1903-1950)
JOSEPH STALIN (1878-1953)
JOSEPH STALIN (1878-1953)

Fears moves back and forth in history to identify some of the “Books That Can Change Your Life”.  He jumps to the twentieth century to tell the story of Winston, the defeated hero in Orwell’s “1984”.  Fears explains how totalitarianism sucks struggle out of life but leaves dead bodies or soulless automatons in its wake.  Fears notes how Stalin murders twenty million in a totalitarian system similar to what Orwell wrote about in the late 1940s.


Fears reinforces his argument by jumping back in history to tell the story of “The Prince”, Machiavelli’s masterpiece about totalitarian rule.  Just as predicted in “The Prince”, Stalin lives to old age by following the rules set down in Machiavelli’s 16th century book.  Stalin murders or imprisons any opposition to his rule.  Stalin’s single minded objective is acquisition and retention of power.  Stalin’s objectives are achieved through a police state that controls media, arbitrarily arrests citizens, and acts without moral conscience.


Stalin’s terror is revealed in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, published in 1973.  Ironically, Fears notes that Solzhenitsyn returns to Russia and vilifies capitalist America for ignoring the plight of the poor by losing sight of its own values.  Solzhenitsyn dies in 2008, near Moscow, at the age of 89.

This is only a smattering of the many books Fears talks about in his lectures.  Fundamentally, one takes from Fears lectures, a belief that to live life well one must internalize a moral compass and have courage to follow truth in seeking justice, regardless of its cost to your person or possessions.  And finally, one should live life in moderation, neither in excess or deficiency.

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