Kenworthy has offered his readers twelve inspirational synopses of undeniably important and useful lives. Some of these biographies first appeared in the closing years of World War II and, because of the book’s popularity, were amended and updated in subsequent printings. It was not written because the author intended to lecture readers on how to become “great.” Realistically, he was frank to declare that most of them had little chance for that. Rather, his purpose was to provide them with “stars” by which they could better steer their lives in profoundly unsettled times.
In so doing, Kenworthy notes that “the Twelve,” as he calls his subjects, were often unpopular figures, some of them for particular actions undertaken during parts of their careers, others for calling down permanent prejudices against themselves in some quarters. This, Kenworthy explains, was because they were ahead of their times. Gandhi, for example, was profoundly feared and distrusted by British authorities as well as by large numbers of both Moslems and Hindus—as his assassination indicated. Similarly, Eleanor Roosevelt was always subjected to derision for her work on behalf of labor, women, and minorities. Even after she served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations and had gained international stature in her own right, she continued to be the butt of vicious jokes and a provocation to people with deeply ingrained prejudices. It was much the same for Sun Yat-sen, who at various points in his career was depicted as a dangerous revolutionary or dissident,...
(The entire section is 637 words.)