The renowned oral historian turns his attention to the aspirations of "the American century."
I feel there's gonna be a change, but we're the ones gonna do it, not the government. With us there's a saying, "La esperenza muera ultima. Hope dies last." You can't lose hope. If you lose hope, you lose everything.—Jessie de la Cruz, retired farm worker
Studs Terkel's marvelous oral histories have hitherto dealt with specifics, as he puts it "the visceral stuff — the job, race, age and death." While Terkel's chosen theme here, the incandescence of hope, might at first appear elusive, it is anything but abstract. For Terkel, hope is born of activism, commitment, and the steely determination to resist.
The spirit of activism has ebbed and flooded through Terkel's venerable life. In the Great Depression of the 1930s he recalls a man swinging from a chandelier at the Astor Hotel shouting for "Social Security!" In the 1960s it was African Americans and students who advocated for equal rights and an end to maladventure overseas. And now, in a new century, young and old are joining forces on the streets to say no to war. The spark of activism is igniting the precious idea of a better world once again.
The interviews in Hope Dies Last constitute an alternative history of the "American century," forming a legacy of the indefatigable spirit that Studs has always embodied, and an inheritance for those who, by taking a stand, are making concrete the dreams of today.
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While American military forces seek to defeat an enemy that has no nation and American citizens ponder a future inextricably linked to the threat of terrorism, legendary writer Studs Terkel steps forward with a remarkable volume of oral histories that sheds new light on fighting for a just cause in uncertain times. As the title of Hope Dies Last suggests, Terkel's interviews all deal with the notion of finding hope in difficult times and holding on to that hope (of a better job, a better life, justice, peace) despite often overwhelming odds. Terkel draws his subjects from an incredibly broad range of backgrounds: pardoned Illinois death row inmate Leroy Orange discusses the events of his life, 94-year-old famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith talks about Enron, undocumented Guatemalans tell of trying to merely survive in modern America. While each testimonial is compelling in its own way, they combine to form a mosaic of human tenacity. Often, as in the case of 1960s civil rights activists, the subjects' ideas are accepted in the long run, for others, including a resident of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project, the struggle is only just beginning. Terkel, 91 years old at the time of this book's publication, draws from a wealth of human experience but is spry enough to take on new causes and skillfully profile youthful activists with emerging causes. And Hope Dies Last is still a Studs Terkel book, full of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's brand of blue-collar, rabble-rousing, union-card-waving brand of broad shouldered Chicago liberalism that makes the current wave of political writers seem a bit green and petty by comparison. For all of their success in selling books that accuse one another of being liars and idiots, those writers would do well to get out and meet even a few of the people that Studs Terkel has been talking to for years. --John MoeAbout the Author:
Studs Terkel is the author of ten books of oral history, including Working and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Good War."
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