Book Review: "Profiles in Courage"
A True Story
on Sep 9, 2022
One afternoon in 2011 when I visited Starehe Boys' Centre where I had my high school education, I struck a conversation with a teacher called Franklin Etyang'. I informed Etyang' during the conversation that I greatly admired former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (JFK). And when he asked me why I admired JFK, I quickly replied, "Because he was a handsome, young, wise and charismatic president."
I described JKF as wise because after listening to his famous 1961 inaugural address, I had been impressed by his maturity and rhetorical skills. He delivered that inaugural address with a touch of eloquence, which is why it was billed as the second most influential speech of the 20th century, obviously after Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream."
Before 2011, I had heard about JFK's book, Profiles in Courage, which was purported to be so incisive that it won him a Pulitzer Prize - one of the most coveted awards for achievements in literature writing. So when I came across about eight copies of the book at the University of Nairobi library in 2011, I read one of them with great interest. And yikes! The book sounded dull and dry to me.
Although Profiles in Courage fell short of my expectations after reading it in 2011, I recently desired to re-read it since courage is one virtue I am endeavoring to possess and practice in my day-to-day living. The courage to say "no", to speak up for myself and to become the unique me that God created me to be.
You can therefore imagine my delight when I found the book on sale at a certain bookstall in Nairobi when I travelled to the city last Monday. I hastily bought the book and began devouring it the following day with the same great interest I exhibited when I first read it at the University of Nairobi library in 2011.
JFK wrote Profiles in Courage in the 1950s when he was recovering from a spinal surgery. He gave an exhaustive account of eight United States senators who portrayed great courage at a time of national crisis. At the time JFK was penning the book, he was serving as a senator. I think that's why he focussed on only U.S. senators, and not leaders with other titles.
In Profiles in Courage, JFK narrated how the eight senators were ridiculed and harshly criticized for going against the grain. They were lampooned by their fellow leaders, by the press and by their fellow countrymen. Of the eight senators he covered in the book, the one whose story of valor captivated me most was Daniel Webster.
JFK noted that however different their acts of courage were, the eight senators held much in common - their breath-taking talents as orators, their scholarly brilliance, and, above all, their deep-seated belief in themselves, their integrity and their adherence to the rightness of their cause.
As I read Profiles in Courage, I found myself envying JFK's depth of knowledge and clarity of expression. I had the impression that JFK, despite all the physical health problems that troubled him, enjoyed his clear way of thinking; the kind of clear thinking that I sometimes enjoy when I am all alone in my room.
Even though I envied JFK's excellent command of American history, I must admit that his book, Profiles in Courage, again sounded dull and dry to me, with the exception of the chapter about Daniel Webster. But I soldiered on and read the book to the end. I just had to finish reading it so that I can take pride in having read one of the most respected leaders of the 20th century.
Because Profiles in Courage sounded dull and dry to me, the book didn't inspire me to be courageous in the way I expected it to. But at least JFK has motivated me to continue reading avidly with the way he pored over hundreds of books while researching and writing Profiles in Courage. Such is the kind of avid reading I will be doing everyday. So help me God.
NEW! NEW! NEW! If you missed my social media update three days ago, let me take this opportunity to inform you that I have produced a new hymn which is available in the videos' section of this blog. Just click on the "videos" link on the menu at the top of this blog to access the hymn.
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Why We Should Pray Often
A True Story
on Sep 4, 2022
When I go for my evening exercises to my hometown of Kiserian, I usually make an effort of walking uprightly and of thinking positively. I also try to observe as much as I can along the way. Last Thursday but one, I passed by the lifeless body of a kitten. It had obviously been ran over by a moving car or motorbike as it strolled on the road.
On my way back home that same Thursday evening, I saw another kitten - this time a living one - on the road leading to our home. The kitten looked desperate for company given the way it was meowing audibly. When I got near it, I hunkered down and stroked it affectionately, something that made it warm to me and start following me after I stood up to walk.
Afraid that the kitten might follow me all the way home, I did what I maintain was the right thing to do: I kicked it with one of my feet. That made it stop loping behind me. It stood still and began meowing again. As I walked away from it, I sympathized with its loneliness and wished it well.
Later on in the evening of that day when I remembered the kitten I had seen lying dead on the road, I prayed for the kitten I had kicked with my foot. I asked God to protect it from the danger of being hit by a moving vehicle as it desperately sought company of passersby.
My prayer set in motion a series of thoughts in my mind about the danger we humans also encounter as we go about our daily life. I remembered the stories I have read about the calamities that have befallen on people who were lucky, healthy and blessed. Two accidents in particular stood out in my memory.
One was a plane crash which happened in 1996 and which killed Ron Brown, the then United States Secretary of Commerce. I read about that plane crash in the endearing memoir of Bill Clinton under whose administration Ron Brown was serving. Clinton reported in his memoir that less than two weeks before the plane crashed, his wife and daughter had flown in it with some of the same cabin crew members who perished in its crash.
I shudder to think how Bill Clinton would have felt and reacted if the plane had crashed while carrying his immediate family. He just has to thank his lucky stars that his wife and daughter weren't in the plane during that ill-fated flight when it crashed in Europe, killing everyone onboard, including Ron Brown who was hailed as the best Secretary of Commerce that America ever had.
The other accident that I remembered reading about was another plane crash that happened in the Andes Mountains of South America. I had read about that plane crash in an old Reader's Digest magazine. According to the narrator of the story in the magazine, those who survived the crash had to eat the flesh of their dead colleagues as they got stranded high up in the Andes Mountains for about two weeks before they were found and rescued.
As I read the story, which was told with speed and punch, I could hardly believe that right-thinking human beings could feast on dead human bodies. I wondered whether such human flesh could be delicious when eaten cold. But come to think of it, I now find it plausible that people can actually eat corpses when faced with the threat of dying through starvation.
It is such accidents which have befallen on lucky, healthy and blessed individuals that make me pray often for my family, for my closest relatives and for my true friends. Every day, I ask God to preserve them in danger and to prosper them in all things good. Oh boy, haven't I come to enjoy praying!
I have discovered that praying is like reading and exercising; it's not something you wake up one morning and decide to do daily. Rather, it's something you grow into. You at first try praying once in a while with a lot of effort and discipline, and gradually more often and with ease until it becomes a deeply ingrained habit.
My beloved reader, I beseech you to also get into the habit of praying regularly. Pray for yourself and for your loved ones because there is so much that can go wrong in this fallen world that is full of pain, suffering and disappointments. Pray, pray and pray until praying becomes your lifestyle. That's all I am saying.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on why we should pray often, you might also enjoy another one on "How God Answered My Prayer" that I wrote four years ago. Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.