Category Archives: Book Reviews

Black History Month: The Struggle Makes You Stronger


Black History Month: Booker T. Washington—Up From Slavery, Chapter 2.

Testament to ResilienceExcerpted below are a few paragraphs from the second chapter of Booker T. Washington’s memoir, Up From Slavery.
When one considers the circumstances of a black child in nineteenth century Virginia one realizes two things:

  1. Successful persons have come out of even the most trying circumstances
  2. Resilience can be forged and cultivated in these trying circumstances

Booker T Washington and Maggie Lena Walker, both from the same state and overlapping eras were on very different sides of the race debate, yet their lives bear testament to the truth that the human capacity for achievement and resilience is a powerful force.

In those days, and later as a young man, I used to try to picture in my imagination the feelings and ambitions of a white boy with absolutely no limit placed upon his aspirations and activities. I used to envy the white boy who had no obstacles placed in the way of his becoming a Congressman, Governor, Bishop, or President by reason of the accident of his birth or race. I used to picture the way that I would act under such circumstances; how I would begin at the bottom and keep rising until I reached the highest round of success.

In later years, I confess that I do not envy the white boy as I once did. I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Looked at from this standpoint, I almost reached the conclusion that often the Negro boy’s birth and connection with an unpopular race is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned. With few exceptions, the Negro youth must work harder and must perform his tasks even better than a white youth in order to secure recognition. But out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.

From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race. I have always been made sad when I have heard members of any race claiming rights or privileges, or certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they were members of this or that race, regardless of their own individual worth or attainments.

——Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery
In celebration of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Black History Month: Frederick Douglass—A Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Resilient AbolitionistFrederick Douglass’ Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is easily among the most renown of American slave narratives. Within the Narrative the most remember scene (certainly among our favorite) is that detailing the process by which he learned to read and write. It is a tale of him overcoming the degradation of slavery, the deprivation of his circumstance and his personal resilience in finding a way to access what he intuitively knew would be a valuable skill.

We have excerpted a few segments below. The lessons are clear:

  • Recognize when one is falling into despair and resist it with action
  • Use even the slimmest of openings to overcome even the most toughest challenges
  • Look for creative ways to work around old obstacles
  • After developing a plan, be persistent in its execution

Shadow of Despair

I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.

Using the slimmest of openings

From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell.

Creative Workarounds

I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way.


I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

The full text of Frederick Douglass Narrative, Chapter 7 can be found at the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


TDH: Swiss banks create fund to return Holocaust victims’ assets


February 5, 1997: Switzerland’s largest banks create a fund to compensate Holocaust victims

As the Nazi menace became evident, hundreds of thousands of Western European Jews attempted to secure their assets (much of it liquidated in fire sales after pogroms like the Reichskristallnacht) in bank accounts in Switzerland and neutral countries. These refugees or their couriers were often unable to communicate account details to relatives who managed to escape the Nazis. Moreover, descendants’ access to these accounts was often blocked by missing paperwork such as death certificates (which the Nazi neglected to issue). These dormant accounts and those holding assets directly plundered by the Nazis and their allies were shrouded in secrecy.

Resilience may uncover morePerhaps thousands of individuals had petitioned banking authorities for decades with no success but beginning in 1995 the World Jewish Congress (WJC) marshaled these individual efforts and launched a class-action lawsuit. They were also able to build bi-partisan support for their effort to recover these funds. Stymied by the Swiss in their search, researchers spent hundreds of hours scouring tens of thousands yellowed U.S. intelligence dispatches.In their search they discovered that much of the hundreds of millions of dollars in gold stolen by Germans during the war remained within Swiss banks. They learned that while the Swiss would not disclose account details they may have used some of the deposits to help the Polish government indemnify Swiss citizens who had their property seized by the Communists.

In time, the pressure brought by the WJC lead the banks to publish the names of thousands of foreign account holders whose accounts had been dormant since 1945 as well as a number of dormant accounts opened by Swiss residents who may have been acting as proxies for Jews in other parts of Europe. One survivor whose father’s name was not on the list but continues to search was quoted as saying “I cannot give up…It has gone too far.
The dogged persistence of others like her and of the World Jewish Congress was rewarded on this day in 1997.

The story of the resilience of the WJC and the effort to create an effective coalition is ably narrated by John Authers and Richard Wolff in The Victims Fortune.


Love and freedom


BHM Entrepreneurs: Free Frank (1777-1854)—Manufacturer

Free Frank - A Tale of Persevering Love

That Free Frank survived for seventy-seven years the bitter hardships, the disappointments, the limitation imposed on his life by a society that operated continuously and perniciously to defeat his efforts, attests to the strength and indomitable will of this black man in his determination to buy his family from slavery. By 1857, while over forty years had passed since Free Frank purchases Lucy, in 1817, this black pioneer had succeeded. Four generations of his family had been purchased from slavery. (page 163)

Free Frank was born a slave in 1777, the year after the Declaration of Independence. His mother was born free in West Africa. At age 18, his owner (likely his father) moved him to Kentucky to clear and farm a homestead.

Life on the frontier was often brutish and fraught with danger. Within those harsh surroundings Frank met and married Lucy, another slave. Because of the distance between their owners, Free Frank and Lucy would not live together for almost 20 years. They were still too close for either to run away.

Frank’s owner left the county in 1810. This was a most opportune time. Between 1810 and 1812 the price of saltpeter (a critical input for gunpowder) increased 6-fold because of the War of 1812. Frank lacked access to the tools used by other more sophisticated manufacturers. He nonetheless exploited the low barriers to entry, his own industriousness and deep knowledge of the county to earn the $1600 (about $30,000 in today’s money) needed to buy both Lucy’s freedom in 1817 and his own in 1819. It is likely that Frank also paid his owner an additional $1,200 in fees over this period for the right to his own labor.

Over the course of his life, Frank would buy the freedom of another 13 relatives for the equivalent of $341,000 in today’s money. He would leverage the frenzy around the Illinois-Michigan canal to become the first black man to found a frontier town and protected these accomplishments by demanding the right to legally sue.

By any measure, Free Frank exemplified resilience in the face of the challenges of life as a slave in the South and as a free man in Illinois.

In honor of Black History Month, our regular Tuesday and Friday posts will highlight black entrepreneurs who have displayed exemplary resilience.


TDH: The Oxford English Dictionary


February 1st, 1884: The first fascicle of the OED published.

Many an eager speller has quit within days of trying to read the abridged version of the dictionary from cover to cover. Writing the very first unabridged edition took a bit more time and determination.The project was dreamed up by the London Philological Society in 1857 and expected it to take 10 years. It was actually finally completed in 1928, 70 years after the idea was conceived and 54 years after work began. It took a year of wrangling between the Society and the Oxford University Press just to get started. When completed, it included almost 2 million illustrative quotations drawn from the over 5 million suggested by literally thousands of volunteer readers. Most notable among these was Dr. W. C. Minor, a Union veteran who had been committed to London’s Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane after killing a working man during a schizophrenic episode. From his cells, where it was presumed that he would simply live out his years, he dedicated 21 years of his life. In one 2-year period he provided no fewer than 12,000 quotations. If the very existence of the Oxford English Dictionary is a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of the most daunting challenges. The work of Dr W.C.Minor is proof of the redeeming power of focused and selfless work.

Simon Winchester entertainingly tells the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary in his The Meaning of Everything. His The Professor and the Madman focuses on the story of Dr. Minor and Prof James Murray the editor of the project.

By the way:
fascicle, n.
Etymology:  < Latin fasciculus diminutive of fascis: see fasces n.
2. A part, number, ‘livraison’ (of a work published by instalments); = fasciculus n. 2.
1647   J. Mayne Late Serm. False Prophets 19   In your next Fascicle, you say, that I maintaine that some things[etc.].
1858   T. Carlyle Hist. Friedrich II of Prussia II. x. ii. 606   Suhm translates; sends it to him..fascicle by fascicle, with commentaries.
1887   Homeop. World 1 Nov. 521   The Sixth Fascicle completes this beautiful work.


Bounce: Living the resilient life


Living the Resilient LifeRobert J. Wicks’ Bounce: Living the Resilient Life takes a holistic approach to resilience, focusing on principles such as self-care, mindfulness, and compassion. The author, a doctor of psychology, has experience in working with relief workers and health care professionals treating veterans—individuals that often suffer from second-hand stress. The book is nevertheless generally useful, covering situations as common as financial woes and everyday stress. Bounce is a fast read, made even faster by an abundance of bulleted lists and self-diagnostic tools that should engage the reader long after the first reading.

Wicks emphasizes different means of self-care and renewal as solutions to managing acute and chronic stress. Self-care—basically anything one enjoys doing to relieve stress—is described by Wicks as a “necessary source of constant renewal,” rather than a luxury. Similarly:

  • a balanced circle of friends
  • an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses
  • mindfulness

are proposed as indispensable precursors to resilience. Consequently, Wicks presents a different view of resilience from most clinicians. For him resilience encompasses self-awareness, compassion, and openness to life’s experiences in addition to the more traditional focus of dealing healthily with stress. His is a new yet accessible approach.