Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Must Read For Everyone

I just finished Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano. I am amazed at how much I learned from the book and how lyrical and engaging the entries were. Galeano takes on all of human history, and even a little pre-history, through short entries that engage with anything and everything: major events in human history, famous (and infamous) historical figures, great people whose names are now lost to history, etc. His populist approach and keen sense of history create a rich and engaging view of how things have changed over time but how discrimination, hate, and violence have always marred our actions. Heather and I were lucky enough to attend his reading the week the book came out a month or so ago. I have never seen the bookstore, Politics and Prose, so packed full of people (and they bring in some huge names for readings). Some excerpts from the book:

Brief History of Civilization

And we tired of wandering through the forest and along the banks of rivers.
And we began settling. We invented villages and community life, turned bone into needle and thorn into spike. Tools elongated our hands, and the hand multiplied the strength of the ax, the hoe, and the knife.
We grew rice, barley, wheat, and corn, we put sheep and goats into corrals, we learned to store grain to keep from starving in bad times.
And in the fields of our labor we worshipped goddesses of fertility, women of fast hips and generous breasts. But with the passage of time they were displaced by the harsh gods of war. And we sang hymns of praise to the glory of kings, warrior chiefs, and high priests.
We discovered the words "yours" and "mine," land became owned, and women became property of men and fathers the owners of children.
Left far behind were the times when we drifted without home or destination.
The results of civilization were suprising: our lives became more secure but less free, and we worked a lot harder.


Two thousand six hundred years ago in the city of Miletus, an absentminded genius named Thales liked to go for a stroll at night to gaze at the stars, and as a result he frequently fell into the ditch.
Perhaps by asking the stars, Thales discovered that death is not an end but a transformation, and that water is the origin and meaning of all life. Not gods, water. Earthquakes happen because the sea moves and disturbs the land, not becasue of Poseidon's tantrums. The eye sees not by divine grace, but by reflecting reality the way the river reflects the bushes on its banks. And eclipses occur, not because the sun hides from the wrath of Olympus, but because the moon covers the sun.
Thales, who had learned to think in Egypt, accurately predicted eclipses, measured with precision the distance of approaching ships on the high seas, and calculated the exact height of the Keops Pyramid by the shadow that it cast. One of the most famous theorems is attributed to him, as well as four more, and it is even said that he discovered electricity.
But perhaps his greatest feat was of a different kind: to live godless, naked of any religious comfort, never giving an inch.

The Loser

He preached in the desert and died alone.
Simón Rodríguez, who had been Bolívar's teacher, spent half a century roving Latin America on the back of a mule, founding schools, and saying what no one wanted to hear.
A fire took nearly all his papers. Here are a few of the words that survived.
  • On independence:
We are independent but not free. Something must be done for these poor people, who have become less free than before. Before, they had a shepherd king who did not eat them until they were dead. Now the first to show up eats them alive.
  • On colonialism of the mind:
Europe's know-how and the prosperity of the United States are for our America two enemies of freedom of thought. The new republics are unwilling to adopt anything that does not have their stamp of approval... If you are going to imitate everything, imitate orgininality!
  • On colonialist trade:
Some think prosperity is seeing their ports filled with ships - foreign ships and their homes turned into storerooms for goods - foreign goods. Every day brings another load of manufactured clothes, down to the caps the Indians wear. Soon we shall see little golden packages bearing the royal coat of arms containing 'newly processed' clay for children accustomed to eating dirt.
  • On popular education:
To make students recite by rote what they do not understand is like training parrots. Teach children to be curious so they learn to obey their own minds rather than obeying authorities the way the narrow-minded do, or obeying custom the way the stupid do. He who knows nothing, anyone can fool. He who has nothing, anyone can buy.


Every year, chemical pesticides kill no fewer than three million farmers.
Every day, workplace accidents kill no fewer than ten thousand workers.
Every minute, poverty kills no fewer than ten children.
These crimes do not show up on the news. They are, like wars, normal acts of cannibalism.
The criminals are on the loose. No prisons are built for those who rip the guts out of thousands. Prisons are built as public housing for the poor.
More than two centuries ago, Thomas Paine wondered:
"Why is it that scarcely any are executed but the poor?"
Texas, twenty-first century: the last supper sheds light on the cellblock's clientele. Nobody chooses lobster or filet mignon, even though those dishes figure on the farewell menu. The condemned men prefer to say goodbye to the world with the usual: burgers and fries.

No comments: