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The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000 Year History Told Through the Lives of Freedom's Greatest Champions Hardcover – July 4, 2000
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Jim Powell believes that worthwhile abstract ideas are best promoted by the study of the lives of those who embodied them. In The Triumph of Liberty, Powell, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, uses capsule biographies of 65 heroes and heroines as the building blocks for a grand narrative history of liberty, stretching from ancient times to the present. Their stories make clear that liberty begins with an idea: that people are born with a natural right to liberty, the opportunity to pursue one's dream and live in peace.
Powell's list of freedom fighters includes the predictable standard bearers (Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, John Locke, Martin Luther King), as well as a few refreshing surprises. Rose Wilder Lane, for example, known to many readers primarily because of her famous pioneer mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was one of the most successful freelance writers of the early 20th century. In her writings, she proclaimed the evils of collectivism and advocated natural rights. Friedrich Schiller, the German poet and dramatist, thematically prioritized the importance of freedom in many of his literary works, while Maria Montessori radically declared assisting the individual fulfill their destiny as the purpose of education.
Although Powell exhibits an interdisciplinary perception of freedom (in the forms of literature, music, political science, visual arts, etc.), his perspective remains exclusively Western. Consequently, readers hoping for a broader global examination, including, for example, Ghandi or Cesar Chavez, will find his interpretations limited. Powell's table of contents may also frustrate. Organized conceptually (Natural Rights, Toleration, Peace, Self-Help), rather than chronologically or alphabetically, it fails to assist the reader hoping quickly to locate a particular individual; only his bibliography, located at the back of the book, provides a listing of the individuals portrayed. Nevertheless, Powell's biographies, each six to seven pages, effectively convey to the reader what liberty means and how it is advanced. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack
From Publishers Weekly
Through 65 pithy, vivid biographical profiles, Powell traces the struggle for freedom from oppression, equality before the law, peace, social justice, toleration of thought, speech and individuality. Along with familiar figures such as Erasmus, Jefferson, Franklin, Locke, Tocqueville, Thoreau and Mencken, he presents liberty-lovers who deserve to be better known, including John Lilburne, an English pamphleteer who attacked taxes, censorship and the notorious Star Chamber; Hugo Grotius, a Dutch antiwar philosopher and father of international law; and Lysander Spooner, a maverick 19th-century American libertarian opponent of military conscription and intrusive big government. Powell, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and editor of Laissez-Faire Books, includes inspirational profiles of Raoul Wallenberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Among his eclectic, sometimes debatable choices for this motley portrait gallery are psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, opponent of involuntary commitment of mental patients, and anticollectivist novelist Ayn Rand. Equally unpredictable is the roster of creative artists whose works reputedly spread ideals of liberty: Robert Heinlein, western novelist Louis L'Amour, comic-opera whiz William S. Gilbert, Goya, Rabelais, Victor Hugo, Beethoven, Schiller. On balance, though, this stimulating sourcebook is a rousing testament to the belief that one person can make a difference; hopefully, it will inspire readers to go back to the original writings of these trailblazers. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Powell is enthusiastic about his subjects, and one is left eager to learn more of them. Unfortunately, his book is poorly-written and often tedious. He traces only superficially the intellectual evolution of his freedom-fighters, and in each chapter there is a sense of padding -- especially in his insistence on listing, ad nauseum, every language into which a particular person's writings have been translated.
Not a spectacular book in itself, The Triumph of Liberty best serves as a springboard to more substantial and better-written ones.
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