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Blatant hagiography has nothing interesting or revelatory to offer

  • Mar 9, 2010
This is hagiography, pure and simple.

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.


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review by . March 23, 2010
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, …
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I am an e-discovery strategist, computer forensics specialist and testifying expert witness - and an avid reader.      Aside from technology books, I love thrillers, suspense, mystery, … more
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After spending two years with Nelson Mandela collaborating on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, author and Time managing editor Stengel (You're Too Kind) felt that leaving Mandela's side "was like the sun going out of my life." In 15 compelling chapters, Stengel uses his inside perspective and more than 70 hours of taped interviews to distill wisdom from "the grandfather of South Africa," who recently turned 91, while also recounting stories from Mandela's childhood, his days as a revolutionary, his 27-year imprisonment, and his time negotiating for the country's first democratic elections. Stengel also explores Mandela's romantic relationships, including his three wives (the latest of whom, Graca Machel, he married at age 80). It's the intersection of Mandela's personal life with his part in world history that makes this portrait so vivid and compelling; indeed, the personal role he's played in Stengel's life (it was Mandela who urged Stengel to marry his wife; he became godfather to Stengel's first son) lend the volume's self-help aspects real resonance. Peeling back the many layers of Mandela's life, Stengel provides a clear view of Mandela's legacy and the lessons he has to teach.
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ISBN-10: 0307460681
ISBN-13: 978-0307460684
Author: Richard Stengel
Genre: Health, Mind & Body
Publisher: Crown Archetype
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