William L. Shirer.
(1904-1993). The author of the Berlin Diary and the magnificent Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, was also one of the inventors of broadcast news. He worked with Edward R. Murrow on March 12, 1938, to cobble together the first live news roundup from Europe. Shirer came back to the United States when World War II erupted. He was too progressive for the conservative sponsors of his weekly television show. Effectively blacklisted, betrayed by his friend and boss Murrow, Shirer in desperation decided to go take a look at the German war documents, captured more or less intact when Nazi Germany fell in 1945. The result was one of the classics of modern history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer also wrote a three-volume autobiography, American Journey, which may qualify as the finest American autobiography of the twentieth century, particularly the second volume, The Nightmare Years. Shirer’s story is fascinating, and the books he wrote are essential texts for anyone wanting to understand “the bloodiest century in world history.”
Note: I developed Shirer for the Great Basin Chautauqua in Reno, Nevada.
Jean Jacques Rousseau.
(1712-1778). At the time of the millennium (2000), Life magazine declared Rousseau “the man of the millennium.” This so intrigued me that I decided to perform him for the Great Basin Chautauqua. Gadfly, essayist, the “first romantic,” author of the Confessions, the Social Contract, and the experimental novel Emile, Rousseau is a towering figure in the history of western thought. He is often exasperating, and frequently enough something of a poseur, but his influence on the modern world has been incalculable.
Note: I developed Rousseau for a Great Basin Chautauqua on the “Great Figures of the Millennium.”
(1667-1745). Gulliver’s Travels is one of my favorite books. I re-read it every two or three years. I love satire, and though temperamentally I am closer to Horatian (genial) satire, I like to hunker down with men like Swift, who responded to the hypocrisies and insanities of his world with saevo indignation, savage indignation. I’ll never forget my first performance of Swift for the Great Basin Chautauqua, when I quoted lines from Swift’s 1732 poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room”:
Thus finishing his grand Survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!
I thought the gray-haired women in the first two rows were going to backflip out of the Chautauqua tent. Swift saw through all the agreeable narratives of English and European society of his time. His capacity to puncture human illusion is as important today as it was then. The phone doesn’t ring nearly enough for the author of A Tale of a Tub and “A Modest Proposal.”