Having witnessed an historic election and recognized Veterans’ Day in the last few days, and with Thanksgiving nearing, our thoughts turn to heroes, past and present. Who are our heroes? Why do we admire them? Are they talented athletes, artists, or performers whose abilities we wish we could emulate? Are they celebrities who inspire fantasy worship? Have they accomplished something significant for the good of society that inspires a sense of wonder and gratitude? Is it even possible that a single individual can make a real difference in the lives of others? Here is a short list of books about genuine heroes recommended by staff of Tazewell County Public Library.
During wartime, those who fight for their country with courage and selflessness are considered heroes. Those without a combat role may also be heroes when they risk their lives to come to the aid of others. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman and profiteer, is certainly a hero to the 1100 Jews he protected by employing them in his factories and saving them from the concentration camps. His story is told by Thomas Keneally in Schindler’s List and in the movie of the same title. Another such figure is Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who forged papers permitting hundreds of Hungarian Jews to escape to Sweden. He himself did not evade the ravages of war, however, but was imprisoned by the Soviets in the Gulag. His eventual fate has never been revealed by the Russians. Read about him in Righteous Gentile: the story of Raoul Wallenberg, missing hero of the Holocaust by John Bierman.
Another heroic effort during World War II is described in the recent book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman. When Germany overran Poland, they destroyed much of Warsaw, including the city’s zoo. Jan and Antonina Zabinski smuggled Jews into the cages that once held their animals, and made room for more “guests” in their villa. Jan, a member of the Polish resistance, buried ammunition and explosives below the elephants’ cage, while his wife cared for their surviving animals and guests and kept their spirits alive.
The Librarian of Basra by Jeannette Winter is a picture book that tells of heroic civilian effort to save the priceless cultural treasure of Iraq amidst the horrific destruction of the last several years.
In the acclaimed Three Cups of Tea: one man’s mission to fight terrorism and build nations—one school at a time, Greg Mortenson describes his decade-long effort to fight the roots of terrorism—poverty and ignorance—in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has singlehandedly generated funds to establish more than one hundred schools for girls in that time.
Tracy Kidder tells the story of Paul Farmer, a doctor fighting poverty and disease in the poorest corners of the world, in Mountains Beyond Mountains. Farmer is a Harvard-educated physician and anthropologist who has valiantly fought to reduce the incidence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru, the prisons of Russia, and third world nations in Africa and Asia. His understanding of the interconnectedness of politics, wealth, social systems and disease has helped to revolutionize infectious disease treatment regimens.
Closer to home, The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard C. Davids tells about the life of Bob Childress of Buffalo Mountain in Floyd and Carroll counties. He was born in 1890 into a community of moonshine drinking, gunfighting mountaineers and was drunk at the age of three, but overcame the influences of his environment through education to minister to congregations throughout the region. He built six stone churches in the 1930s, at least one of which is still served today by his grandson, and transformed the lives of those he served.
These are just a few of the many stories of real heroes available at Tazewell County Public Library. What other heroes come to mind? Honor their selfless acts of courage and devotion by reading more about them.