Twelve Citizens of the World Critical Context - Essay

Leonard S. Kenworthy

Critical Context

Kenworthy intended his book to be inspirational, and insofar as he chose exceptionally able people who in the course of their careers expended time, effort, and often their popularity to improve the lives of others, he succeeded. The book was first published during the last months of World War II, then reprinted in the first years of the Cold War. Its author tried to bring some light and hope to young readers amid unprecedented calamities and uncertainties.

While these are not fictionalized biographies, they are rather simplistic and uncritical. Toscanini, for example, was unquestionably a musical genius who contributed to the internationalization of classic musical scores, but he should not be portrayed as lovable or as an expert in the art of human relations: He could be both tyrannical and egomaniacal. Likewise, whatever the merit of his rhetoric, Sun Yat-sen could arguably be dismissed as neither a particularly brilliant nor successful Chinese politician. Ralph Bunche probably had less of an impact at the United Nations on colonial peoples than he did on African Americans as a racial symbol and on white politicians who needed black support. Gandhi reportedly mistreated his wife. Such notations, to be sure, do not diminish the importance of Kenworthy’s subjects in particular situations or deny that they lived useful lives; however, much of their humanity is stripped away in the glare of an awed, inspirational approach.