The author, Richard Stengel, Managing Editor of Time Magazine, not only makes his uncritical admiration - or perhaps veneration would be the better word - absolutely clear, but goes further and labels Barack Obama "[Mandela's] true successor on the world stage" in many ways. I am not joking.
Personally I have mixed views toward Mandela. I do not doubt that he has great personal courage, but I also question his use of violence to achieve political objectives. His post-prison political life was not without blemish. But one does not need to be a saint or lead a perfect life to be admirable in some respects.
But Stengel buries whatever actual virtues Mandela may have in mountains of glowing praise for everything Mandela may have reportedly said, thought or done.
The worldly Stengel is awed by Mandela not being unnerved when one of the two engines on his aircraft is shut down in flight. Well, Mr. Sengel is apparently unaware that twin-engine aircraft are certified to be able to fly on one engine. Remaining calm when a not all that unusual in-flight engine shutdown occurs is hardly an example of "Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear".
Stengel's apparent acceptance of violence in effectuating political change is disturbing, considering the abuse he heaps on peaceful American protestors in the pages of Time Magazine. Stengel in speaking of Mandela's life lesson of "Have a Core Principle" explains Mandela's violence by his being upset with the violence shown by the South African government. Neither Gandhi nor King, for example, resorted to violence in the face of violence - yet Stengel would have us believe it that Mandela showed courage in leading the violent wing of the political party he belonged to. Stengel rationalizes away Mandela's propensity for violence by simply saying that Mandela "is not and never was a Gandhi". Uhmmmm, okay. Then what is valuable in Mandela's lesson here? When government displeases you, blow something up?
To Stengel, Mandela is a larger than life hero or at least he pretends such is the case. There is little in "Mandela's Way" in terms of lie lessons that you couldn't also find in a Norman Vincent Peale or other self-help book. Mandela is painted in totally transparent hagiographic terms which quickly become wearing, tedious and ultimately boring.
Stengel has already made quite a splash on Mandela's fame, authoring a 1993 biography with the man and co-producing a 1996 documentary. Pardon my cynicism, but my overall feeling is that Stengel is doing nothing more here than returning to the well for another dip in the reflected glory of Nelson Mandela.
What would Nelson Mandela do? Toward the end of Mandela's Way, Richard Stengel asks this question. Stengel helped Mandela write his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, in the early 1990s, and this question helped him "internalize [Mandela] and his ideas." Mandela's Way is biographical, but with a moral point. How can reflecting on the life of Nelson Mandela help us live? The tradition of biography as moral exercise is as old as the Greeks and Romans, … more