“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Blaise Pascal wrote in 1654. But then there’s Walt Whitman, in 1856: “Whoever you are, come forth! Or man or woman come forth! / You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house.”
It is truly an ancient debate: Is it better to be active or contemplative? To do or to think? To make an impact, or to understand the world more deeply? Aristotle argued for contemplation as the highest state of human flourishing. But it was through action that his student Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Which should we aim at? Centuries later, this argument underlies a surprising number of the questions we face in contemporary life. Should students study the humanities, or train for a job? Should adults work for money or for meaning? And in tumultuous times, should any of us sit on the sidelines, pondering great books, or throw ourselves into protests and petition drives?
With Action versus Contemplation, Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule address the question in a refreshingly unexpected way: by refusing to take sides. Rather, they argue for a rethinking of the very opposition. The active and the contemplative can—and should—be vibrantly alive in each of us, fused rather than sundered. Writing in a personable, accessible style, Summit and Vermeule guide readers through the long history of this debate from Plato to Pixar, drawing compelling connections to the questions and problems of today. Rather than playing one against the other, they argue, we can discover how the two can nourish, invigorate, and give meaning to each other, as they have for the many writers, artists, and thinkers, past and present, whose examples give the book its rich, lively texture of interplay and reference.
This is not a self-help book. It won’t give you instructions on how to live your life. Instead, it will do something better: it will remind you of the richness of a life that embraces action and contemplation, company and solitude, living in the moment and planning for the future. Which is better? Readers of this book will discover the answer: both.
Adaptation to Life
George E. Vaillant Harvard University Press, 1977 Library of Congress BF335.V35 1995 | Dewey Decimal 155.6
Between 1939 and 1942, one of America's leading universities recruited 268 of its healthiest and most promising undergraduates to participate in a revolutionary new study of the human life cycle. George Vaillant, director of this study, took the measure of the Grant Study men. The result was the compelling, provocative classic, Adaptation to Life, which poses fundamental questions about the individual differences in confronting life's stresses.
The Affirmation of Life
Bernard REGINSTER Harvard University Press, 2006 Library of Congress B3318.E9R44 2006 | Dewey Decimal 193
While most recent studies of Nietzsche's works have lost sight of the fundamental question of the meaning of a life characterized by inescapable suffering, Bernard Reginster's book The Affirmation of Life brings it sharply into focus. Reginster identifies overcoming nihilism as a central objective of Nietzsche's philosophical project, and shows how this concern systematically animates all of his main ideas.
Eugene Thacker University of Chicago Press, 2010 Library of Congress BD311.T43 2010 | Dewey Decimal 113.8
Life is one of our most basic concepts, and yet when examined directly it proves remarkably contradictory and elusive, encompassing both the broadest and the most specific phenomena. We can see this uncertainty about life in our habit of approaching it as something at once scientific and mystical, in the return of vitalisms of all types, and in the pervasive politicization of life. In short, life seems everywhere at stake and yet is nowhere the same.
In After Life, Eugene Thacker clears the ground for a new philosophy of life by recovering the twists and turns in its philosophical history. Beginning with Aristotle’s originary formulation of a philosophy of life, Thacker examines the influence of Aristotle’s ideas in medieval and early modern thought, leading him to the work of Immanuel Kant, who notes the inherently contradictory nature of “life in itself.” Along the way, Thacker shows how early modern philosophy’s engagement with the problem of life affects thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Georges Bataille, and Alain Badiou, as well as contemporary developments in the “speculative turn” in philosophy.
At a time when life is categorized, measured, and exploited in a variety of ways, After Life invites us to delve deeper into the contours and contradictions of the age-old question, “what is life?”
The fascinating story of how a harsh terrain that resembled modern Antarctica has been transformed gradually into the forests, grasslands, and wetlands we know today.
"One of the best scientific books published in the last ten years."—Ottowa Journal
"A valuable new synthesis of facts and ideas about climate, geography, and life during the past 20,000 years. More important, the book conveys an intimate appreciation of the rich variety of nature through time."—S. David Webb,Science
What will become of our earthly remains? What happens to our bodies during and after the various forms of cadaver disposal available? Who controls the fate of human remains? What legal and moral constraints apply? Legal scholar Norman Cantor provides a graphic, informative, and entertaining exploration of these questions. After We Die chronicles not only a corpse’s physical state but also its legal and moral status, including what rights, if any, the corpse possesses.
In a claim sure to be controversial, Cantor argues that a corpse maintains a “quasi-human status" granting it certain protected rights—both legal and moral. One of a corpse’s purported rights is to have its predecessor’s disposal choices upheld. After We Die reviews unconventional ways in which a person can extend a personal legacy via their corpse’s role in medical education, scientific research, or tissue transplantation. This underlines the importance of leaving instructions directing post-mortem disposal. Another cadaveric right is to be treated with respect and dignity. After We Die outlines the limits that “post-mortem human dignity” poses upon disposal options, particularly the use of a cadaver or its parts in educational or artistic displays.
Contemporary illustrations of these complex issues abound. In 2007, the well-publicized death of Anna Nicole Smith highlighted the passions and disputes surrounding the handling of human remains. Similarly, following the 2003 death of baseball great Ted Williams, the family in-fighting and legal proceedings surrounding the corpse’s proposed cryogenic disposal also raised contentious questions about the physical, legal, and ethical issues that emerge after we die. In the tradition of Sherwin Nuland's How We Die, Cantor carefully and sensitively addresses the post-mortem handling of human remains.
Edited by Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngblood, with an afterword by Lee Edelman Northwestern University Press, 2016 Library of Congress PN56.L52A34 2016 | Dewey Decimal 809.9335
"At a time when the old humanist ideas have shown themselves to be far less effective than political resentment, these essays open new ways of thinking about the moment in which we live." —Radical Philosophy
A study of realism and folk literature and of the sources and techniques of storytelling
Alias Simon Suggs is a study in the life and writings of Johnson J. Hooper of Alabama, and is a masterful contribution to American biography and to American literature.
Extensively documented with illuminating footnotes and revealing references, its style is direct and captivating and will appeal to those who enjoy entertaining biography will relish the privilege of reading it.
Today, almost two decades after her death, Margaret Laurence remains one of Canada's best-known and most beloved writers. Twice winner of the Governor General's Award for fiction, she was, as the late William French wrote, "more profoundly admired than any other Canadian novelist of her generation."
Lyall Powers is both a respected scholar of literature and a lifelong friend of Laurence's, having met her when they were students together at Winnipeg's United College in the 1940s. Alien Heart is the first full-length biography of Margaret that combines personal knowledge and insights about Laurence with a study of her work, which often paralleled the events and concerns in her own life.
Drawing on letters, personal correspondence, journals, and interviews, Lyall Powers discusses the struggles and triumphs Laurence experienced in her efforts to understand herself in the roles of writer, wife, mother, and public figure. He portrays a deeply compassionate and courageous woman, who yet felt troubled by conflicting demands. While Laurence's work is not directly autobiographical, Powers illustrates how her writing expressed many of the same dilemmas, and how the resolution her characters achieved in the novels and stories had an impact on Laurence's own life.
Powers provides an in-depth analysis of all Laurence's work, including the early African essays, fiction, and translations, and her books for children, as well as the beloved Manawaka fiction. The study clearly shows the progression and expression of Laurence as a writer of great humanity and conscience.
All God's Dangers won the National Book Award in 1975.
"On a cold January morning in 1969, a young white graduate student from Massachusetts, stumbling along the dim trail of a long-defunct radical organization of the 1930s, the Alabama Sharecropper Union, heard that there was a survivor and went looking for him. In a rural settlement 20 miles or so from Tuskegee in east-central Alabama he found him—the man he calls Nate Shaw—a black man, 84 years old, in full possession of every moment of his life and every facet of its meaning. . . . Theodore Rosengarten, the student, had found a black Homer, bursting with his black Odyssey and able to tell it with awesome intellectual power, with passion, with the almost frightening power of memory in a man who could neither read nor write but who sensed that the substance of his own life, and a million other black lives like his, were the very fiber of the nation's history." —H. Jack Geiger, New York Times Book Review
All Things Common was first published in 1966. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
In Dr. Peters' study of the Hutterian Brethren (commonly called Hutterites), a group of devoutly religious farmers who have established many communal colonies in the midlands of the United States and Canada, he first traces the historical development of the group and then describes in detail their way of life by focusing on the Manitoba colonies.
After their church was founded in Central Europe at the time of the Reformation, the Hutterians moved slowly east until they settled in Russia, where they lived for over one hundred years. Then, in the 1870's, they immigrated to America and settled in the Dakota Territory. During World War I they fled to Canada under pressure of wartime hysteria. Since they moved to Canada, the Hutterians have encountered more problems but have successfully spread their colonies across the prairie provinces and back into the United States.
At present, the Hutterians are the oldest and most successful community group in the history of western civilization. They believe that their practice of Christian communism is in true harmony with the spirit and teachings of early Christianity. Other aspects of their behavior such as the refusal to do military service and their disapproval of radio, television, dancing, movies, and cosmetics have made them a source of interest and concern to their neighbors.
The book is a thorough introduction to the Hutterians for the general reader and will be of special interest to historians, theologians, sociologists, and economists.
James Henry Breasted (1865–1935) had a career that epitomizes our popular image of the archaeologist. Daring, handsome, and charismatic, he traveled on expeditions to remote and politically unstable corners of the Middle East, helped identify the tomb of King Tut, and was on the cover of Time magazine. But Breasted was more than an Indiana Jones—he was an accomplished scholar, academic entrepreneur, and talented author who brought ancient history to life not just for students but for such notables as Teddy Roosevelt and Sigmund Freud.
In American Egyptologist, Jeffrey Abt weaves together the disparate strands of Breasted’s life, from his small-town origins following the Civil War to his evolution into the father of American Egyptology and the founder of the Oriental Institute in the early years of the University of Chicago. Abt explores the scholarly, philanthropic, diplomatic, and religious contexts of his ideas and projects, providing insight into the origins of America’s most prominent center for Near Eastern archaeology.
An illuminating portrait of the nearly forgotten man who demystified ancient Egypt for the general public, American Egyptologist restores James Henry Breasted to the world and puts forward a brilliant case for his place as one of the most important scholars of modern times.
A long-overdue book on the brilliant life and career of one of our greatest public intellectuals, American Prophet will introduce Carey McWilliams to a new generation of readers.
Peter Richardson's absorbing and elegantly paced book reveals a figure thoroughly engaged with the issues of his time. Deftly interweaving correspondence, diary notes, published writings, and McWilliams's own and others' observations on a colorful and influential cast of characters from Hollywood, New York, Washington, DC, and the American West, Richardson maps the evolution of McWilliams's personal and professional life. Among those making an appearance are H. L. Mencken (McWilliams's mentor and role model), Louis Adamic, John Fante, Robert Towne, Richard Nixon, Studs Terkel, J. Edgar Hoover, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Joseph McCarthy.
American Prophet illustrates the arc of McWilliams's life and career from his early literary journalism through his legal and political activism, his stint in state government, and his two decades as editor of the Nation. This book makes the case for McWilliams's place in the Olympian realm of our most influential and prescient political writers.
Peter Richardson is the editorial director at PoliPointPress in Sausalito, California. He is the author or editor of numerous works on language, literature, and California public policy. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California Berkeley.
Popular Front columnist and New Deal propagandist, fearless opponent of McCarthyism and feared scourge of official liars, I. F. Stone (1907–1989)— magnetic, witty, indefatigable—left a permanent mark on our politics and culture. A college dropout, he was already an influential newsman by the age of twenty-five, enjoying extraordinary access to key figures in Washington and New York. Guttenplan finds the key to Stone’s achievements throughout his singular career—not just in the celebrated I. F. Stone’s Weekly—lay in the force and passion of his political commitments. Stone’s calm and forensic yet devastating reports on American politics and institutions sprang from a radical faith in the long-term prospects for American democracy.
In an era when the old radical questions—about war, the economy, health care, and the right to dissent—are suddenly new again, Guttenplan’s lively, provocative book makes clear why so many of Stone’s pronouncements have acquired the force of prophecy.
When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, his older brother Edwin was devastated. A leading stage star, Edwin Booth thought his career had ended. But with the support of countless theatergoers, over the next thirty years Booth would overcome the shadow of John Wilkes’s infamy and steadily advance a reputation as America’s greatest-ever Shakespearean actor, the American tragedian par excellence.
Daniel J. Watermeier has, through decades of tireless research paired with his own sharp insight, put together the most complete Edwin Booth biography to date. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials and contemporary theatrical scholarship, American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth gives more attention than previous biographies to Booth’s apprentice and journeyman years; his rise in antebellum America to stardom with a new, acclaimed style of acting; his work as an innovative theater builder and theatrical producer; his several foreign tours; and his nationwide tours in the late 1880s. It also addresses Booth’s critical reception in dozens of cities in America and abroad and situates his professional activities within the events and trends of the time.
As interesting as it is informative, Watermeier’s book offers an in-depth look at the triumphal career and tumultuous life of one of the American stage’s most celebrated figures.
Among Giants: A Life with Whales
Charles "Flip" Nicklin with K. M. Kostyal University of Chicago Press, 2011 Library of Congress QL737.C4N475 2011 | Dewey Decimal 599.5
It all started in 1965 with a guy riding a whale. The guy was Flip Nicklin’s father, Chuck, and the whale was an unlucky Bryde’s Whale that had gotten caught up in some anchor line. Hoping to free the whale, Chuck and some friends took their boat as near as they could, and, just before they cut it loose, Chuck posed astride it for a photo.
That image, carried on wire services nationwide, became a sensation and ultimately changed the life of Chuck’s young son, Flip. In the decades since that day, Flip Nicklin has made himself into the world’s premier cetacean photographer. It’s no exaggeration to say that his photos, published in such venues as National Geographic and distributed worldwide, have virtually defined these graceful, powerful creatures in the mind of the general public—even as they helped open new ground in the field of marine mammalogy.
Among Giants tells the story of Nicklin’s life and career on the high seas, from his first ill-equipped shoots in the mid-1970s through his long association with the National Geographic Society to the present, when he is one of the founders of Whale Trust, a nonprofit conservation and research group. Nicklin is equal parts photographer, adventurer, self-trained scientist, and raconteur, and Among Giants reflects all those sides, matching breathtaking images to firsthand accounts of their making, and highlighting throughout the importance of conservation and new advances in our understanding of whale behavior. With Nicklin as our guide, we see not just whales but also our slowly growing understanding of their hidden lives, as well as the evolution of underwater photography—and the stunning clarity and drama that can be captured when a determined, daring diver is behind the lens.
Humpbacks, narwhals, sperm whales, orcas—these and countless other giants of the ocean parade through these pages, spouting, breaching, singing, and raising their young. Nicklin’s photographs bring us so completely into the underwater world of whales that we can’t help but feel awe, while winning, personal accounts of his adventures remind us of what it’s like to be a lone diver sharing their sea.
For anyone who has marveled at the majesty of whales in the wild, Among Giants is guaranteed to be inspiring, even moving—its unmatched images of these glorious beings an inescapable reminder of our responsibility as stewards of the ocean.
Colorful and lively personal essays about life in the wilds of Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw River Delta
Among the Swamp People is the story of author Watt Key’s discovery of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. “The swamp” consists of almost 260,000 acres of wetlands located just north of Mobile Bay. There he leases a habitable outcropping of land and constructs a primitive cabin from driftwood to serve as a private getaway. His story is one that chronicles the beauties of the delta’s unparalleled natural wonders, the difficulties of survival within it, and an extraordinary community of characters—by turns generous and violent, gracious and paranoid, hilarious and reckless—who live, thrive, and perish there.
There is no way into the delta except by small boat. To most it would appear a maze of rivers and creeks between stunted swamp trees and mud. Key observes that there are few places where one can step out of a boat without “sinking to the knees in muck the consistency of axle grease. It is the only place I know where gloom and beauty can coexist at such extremes. And it never occurred to me that a land seemingly so bleak could hide such beauty and adventure.”
It also chronicles Key’s maturation as a writer, from a twenty-five-year-old computer programmer with no formal training as a writer to a highly successful, award-winning writer of fiction for a young adult audience with three acclaimed novels published to date.
In learning to make a place for himself in the wild, as in learning to write, Key’s story is one of “hoping someone—even if just myself—would find value in my creations.”
Northern Spain is the only part of Western Europe where anarchism played a significant role in political life of the twentieth century. Enjoying wide-ranging support among both the urban and rural working class, its importance peaked during its “brief summer”—the civil war between the Republic and General Franco’s Falangists, during which anarchists even participated in the government of Catalonia.
Anarchy’s Brief Summer brings anarchism to life by focusing on the charismatic leader Buenaventura Durruti (1896–1936), who became a key figure in the Spanish Civil War after a militant and adventurous youth. The basis of the book is a compilation of texts: personal testimony, interviews with survivors, contemporary documents, memoirs, and academic assessments. They are all linked by Enzenberger’s own assessment in a series of glosses—a literary form that is somewhere between retelling and reconstruction—with the contradiction between fiction and fact reflecting the political contradictions of the Spanish Revolution. On the trail of forgotten, half-suppressed struggles, Anarchy’s Brief Summer offers a unique portrait of a revolutionary movement that is largely unknown outside Spain.
Over the past thirty years, the way Americans experience death has been dramatically altered. The advent of medical technology capable of sustaining life without restoring health has changed where, when, and how we die. In this revelatory study, medical anthropologist Sharon R. Kaufman examines the powerful center of those changes: the hospital, where most Americans die today. She deftly links the experiences of patients and families, the work of hospital staff, and the ramifications of institutional bureaucracy to show the invisible power of the hospital system in shaping death and our individual experience of it. In doing so, Kaufman also speaks to the ways we understand what it means to be human and to be alive.
“An act of courage and a public service.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“This beautifully synthesized and disquieting account of how hospital patients die melds disciplined description with acute analysis, incorporating the voices of doctors, nurses, social workers, and patients in a provocative analysis of the modern American quest for a ‘good death.’”—Publishers Weekly
“Kaufman exposes the bureaucratic and ethical quandaries that hover over the modern deathbed.”—Psychology Today
“Kaufman’s analysis illuminates the complexity of the care of critically ill and dying patients [and] the ambiguity of slogans such as ‘death with dignity,’ ‘quality of life,’ and ‘stopping life support.’ . . . Thought-provoking reading for everyone contemplating the fate of us all.”—New EnglandJournal of Medicine
Tom Lutz is on a mission to visit every country on earth. And the Monkey Learned Nothing contains reports from fifty of them, most describing personal encounters in rarely visited spots, anecdotes from way off the beaten path. Traveling without an itinerary and without a goal, Lutz explores the Iranian love of poetry, the occupying Chinese army in Tibet, the amputee beggars in Cambodia, the hill tribes on Vietnam’s Chinese border, the sociopathic monkeys of Bali, the dangerous fishermen and conmen of southern India, the salt flats of Uyumi in Peru, and floating hotels in French Guiana, introduces you to an Uzbeki prodigy in the market of Samarkand, an Azeri rental car clerk in Baku, guestworkers in Dubai, a military contractor in Jordan, cucuruchos in Guatemala, a Pentecostal preacher in rural El Salvador, a playboy in Nicaragua, employment agents in Singapore specializing in Tamil workers, prostitutes in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, international bankers in Belarus, a teacher in Havana, border guards in Botswana, tango dancers in Argentina, a cook in Suriname, a juvenile thief in Uruguay, voters in Guyana, doctors in Tanzania and Lesotho, scary poker players in Moscow, reed dancers in Swaziland, young camel herders in Tunisia, Romanian missionaries in Macedonia, and musical groups in Mozambique. With an eye out for both the sublime and the ridiculous, Lutz falls, regularly, into the instant intimacy of the road with random strangers.
Anton Chekhov's life was short, intense, and dominated by battles, both with his dependents and with the tuberculosis that killed him at age forty-four. The traditional image of Chekhov is that of the restrained artist torn between medicine and literature. But Donald Rayfield's biography reveals the life long hidden behind the noble facade. Here is a man capable of both great generosity toward needy peasants and harsh callousness toward lovers and family, a man who craved with equal passion the company of others and the solitude necessary to create his art. Based on information from Chekhov archives throughout Russia, Rayfield's work has been hailed as a groundbreaking examination of the life of a literary master.A new biography of the great author and playwright.
When a natural disaster strikes, one imposing obstacle always impedes recovery: the need to rebuild. Not just homes, schools, and other buildings but also lives must be reconstructed. Yet amid the horror there is also the opportunity to build back better, to create more resilient buildings and deeper human connections.
After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, architect Paul E. Fallon wanted to help rebuild the magic island he had visited the previous summer. Over the next three years, he made seventeen trips to design and supervise construction of an orphanage and a school in Grand Goâve. In the process, he confronted the challenges of building in a country with sparse materials and with laborers predisposed toward magic over physics.
Architecture by Moonlight is about much more than construction, however. Readers will also experience the many relationships Fallon developed as he balanced the contradictory demands of a boisterous American family constructing a memorial for their deceased daughter and Evangelical missionaries more interested in saving souls than filling bellies. Dieunison, a wily Haitian orphan, captured Fallon’s heart and exemplifies both Haiti’s tragedy and its indomitable spirit.
Fallon’s personal experience is an eloquent tale of “an ensemble of incomplete people struggling in a land of great trial and great promise, trying to better understand their place on Earth.” He reveals how, when seemingly different people come together, we succeed by seeking our commonality. Architecture by Moonlight illustrates our strength to rise above disaster and celebrate recovery, perseverance, and humanity.
Murder and mayhem may seem like unreasonable company for Aristotle, one of the founding minds of Western philosophy. But in the skilled hands of Margaret Doody, the pairing could not be more logical. With her Aristotle Detective novels, Margaret Doody brings a Holmesian hero to the bloodied streets of ancient Greece, trading the pipe and deerstalker of Sherlock for the woolen chiton and sandals of Aristotle. Replete with suspense, historical detail, and humor, and complemented by an ever-growing cast of characters and vivid descriptions of the ancient world, Doody’s mysteries are as much lively takes on the figures and forms of the classics as they are classic whodunits in their own right.
With Aristotle and the Secrets of Life, tensions between the Athenians and the Makedonians—followers of another of Aristotle’s former students, Alexander the Great—draw our heroes across the Aegean Sea. Even as Aristotle and Stephanos escape from pirates, uncover conspiracy, and face the horrors of war, Aristotle finds time to discuss his studies of the natural world in this gripping tale of their quest into darkness.
The Art of Life and Death explores how the world appears to people who have an acute perspective on it: those who are close to death. Based on extensive ethnographic research, Andrew Irving brings to life the lived experiences, imaginative lifeworlds, and existential concerns of persons confronting their own mortality and non-being.
Encompassing twenty years of working alongside persons living with HIV/AIDS in New York, Irving documents the radical but often unspoken and unvoiced transformations in perception, knowledge, and understanding that people experience in the face of death. By bringing an “experience-near” ethnographic focus to the streams of inner dialogue, imagination, and aesthetic expression that are central to the experience of illness and everyday life, this monograph offers a theoretical, ethnographic, and methodological contribution to the anthropology of time, finitude, and the human condition. With relevance well-beyond the disciplinary boundaries of anthropology, this book ultimately highlights the challenge of capturing the inner experience of human suffering and hope that affect us all—of the trauma of the threat of death and the surprise of continued life.
From 1952 to 1981, South Africa’s apartheid government ran an art school for the training of African art teachers at Indaleni, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal. The Art of Life in South Africa is the story of the students, teachers, art, and politics that circulated through a small school, housed in a remote former mission station. It is the story of a community that made its way through the travails of white supremacist South Africa and demonstrates how the art students and teachers made together became the art of their lives.
Daniel Magaziner radically reframes apartheid-era South African history. Against the dominant narrative of apartheid oppression and black resistance, as well as recent scholarship that explores violence, criminality, and the hopeless entanglements of the apartheid state, this book focuses instead on a small group’s efforts to fashion more fulfilling lives for its members and their community through the ironic medium of the apartheid-era school.
There is no book like this in South African historiography. Lushly illustrated and poetically written, it gives us fully formed lives that offer remarkable insights into the now clichéd experience of black life under segregation and apartheid.
The story of Atlanta Life Insurance Company, with its humble beginning as a small mutual aid association, depicts the inspiring efforts of black Americans to build and sustain economic organizations and enterprises. Its study also fits in to the mosaic of activities, extending back to the pre-Civil War era, that were aimed at developing an economic base within the black community.
These efforts gained new meaning in the post-Reconstruction period as blacks strove to survive in an America that was increasingly characterized by rampant racism and a host of economic and social restrictions based on race. In this environment, a significant number of black leaders urged business development and the amassing of wealth among black Americans as the primary means by which the reace could end its disadvantage in American society and achieve respect and citizenship.
In Atlanta, shortly after the turn of the century, Alonzo Franklin Herndon, a former slave, joined a long line of promoters of black enterprise by creating Atlanta Life Insurance Company. More than three-quarters of a century later, it is an important enterprise that is the nation’s largest black-controlled shareholder insurance company. With more than $108.7 million in assets, the firm is today a significant example of the efforts of black Americans to achieve economic dignity in America.
Henderson focuses on the historic roots of Atlanta Life, its economic growth and development as a black-owned institution, and its social and economic involvement with the problems and progress of black America. Depicting circumstances that varied from race riots and hostility to investigations by stave regulatory boards to depression to efforts at acquiring special Congressional legislation protecting stock ownership, Henderson relates important details of the Atlanta Life story and its identity with the society it served.