While American military forces seek to defeat an enemy that has no nation and American citizens ponder a future inextricably linked to the threat of terrorism, legendary writer Studs Terkel steps forward with a remarkable volume of oral histories that sheds new light on fighting for a just cause in uncertain times. As the title of Hope Dies Last
suggests, Terkel's interviews all deal with the notion of finding hope in difficult times and holding on to that hope (of a better job, a better life, justice, peace) despite often overwhelming odds. Terkel draws his subjects from an incredibly broad range of backgrounds: pardoned Illinois death row inmate Leroy Orange discusses the events of his life, 94-year-old famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith talks about Enron, undocumented Guatemalans tell of trying to merely survive in modern America. While each testimonial is compelling in its own way, they combine to form a mosaic of human tenacity. Often, as in the case of 1960s civil rights activists, the subjects' ideas are accepted in the long run, for others, including a resident of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project, the struggle is only just beginning. Terkel, 91 years old at the time of this book's publication, draws from a wealth of human experience but is spry enough to take on new causes and skillfully profile youthful activists with emerging causes. And Hope Dies Last
is still a Studs Terkel book, full of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's brand of blue-collar, rabble-rousing, union-card-waving brand of broad shouldered Chicago liberalism that makes the current wave of political writers seem a bit green and petty by comparison. For all of their success in selling books that accuse one another of being liars and idiots, those writers would do well to get out and meet even a few of the people that Studs Terkel has been talking to for years. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
Turning to a subject more elusive than those of his earlier oral histories (work, race, WWII, the American dream and so on), Terkel focuses here on hope as the universal detritus of experience. Terkel worries that Americans are losing hope and consequently losing a collective call to social activism for which hope, he feels, is requisite. Since the book progresses historically, its collective voice grows younger as the book advances toward the present. It is admonitory to note the dampened hopes of older generations. Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets (who piloted the Enola Gay over Hiroshima) dismisses the possibility for peaceful resolutions to post-September 11 conflicts ("We've got to get into a position where we can kill the bastards"); John Kenneth Galbraith, reflecting on the corporate malfeasance of Enron and WorldCom, admits that at his age (94), "there are no untrammeled hopes for the future"; and Adm. Gene LaRoque states simply, "Hope in my view is a wasted emotion." This pessimism, thankfully, wanes as Terkel turns his attention to younger subjects, such as Dr. David Buchanen, who works tirelessly to aid the homeless, and Leroy Orange, whose recent death row pardon has inspired him to want to "talk to at least one youth and turn his life around." Here hope resounds through the pages. Early in the book, Tom Hayden says, "I live now with one goal: to try to learn to be the kind of elder who was missing when I was a kid." With that goal and the hopefulness of the voices that round out this book, hope may well be immortal.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.