I always love summer-reading recommendations. They’re usually books to read at the beach, but since we don’t have much sun here in Seattle, we can read the same books year-round.
There are a couple of books I’m really excited about. The first one is Ken Follett’s most recent book, “Fall of Giants.” I’ve always liked Follett’s thrillers (even though that brings me few points with the English-majors crowd), and I particularly enjoyed his big, fat epics about 12th- and 14th-century England.
“Fall of Giants” is more like the English epics than his earlier thrillers. There’s really nothing as satisfying as being absorbed in a long novel, and when they take you away to another time, it’s even better.
“Fall of Giants” goes from 1911 to 1924, and the characters are families in England, Wales, Germany, America and Russia. Obviously, it covers World War I, as well as the Russian Revolution. In each country, the story contrasts the lives of the peasants with the lives of rich people, and the story that unfolds is the rise of democracy.
It’s difficult for us to understand that, at one time, people actually believed that poor people were not quite human.
In Follett’s book, you see the hard lives of the Welsh coal miners, the English servants and the Russian peasants. And you see the rulers declaring war, losing millions of lives — usually poor people’s lives. And, of course, as in Victorian novels, the poor people often seem to have more character than the rich.
And you see the tremendous risk and dedication of the people fighting for their right to dignity and fairness: coal miners who fought for unions, the Russian peasants who fought to overthrow the despots and, in England, women fighting for the right to vote.
And what did people do? They came out and marched and demonstrated. They filled the streets and demanded change.
I don’t need to say how relevant this book is: Rich people getting richer and richer. People being sent to die in war. People in the streets demanding democracy: demanding unions, their rights as citizens, demanding their rights to have enough to eat.
Egypt? Madison, Wis.?
Working for democracy
When I was thinking about the other book I wanted to recommend, at first I didn’t realize it had a related theme.
It’s Bill Moyers’ new book, “Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues.” Instead of writing about the rise of democracy, Moyers is writing about the decline of it.
Last month, I heard him interviewed on “Democracy Now,” and I was so moved that I ran right out to buy it.
Here are some of his quotes from the interview:
“The greatest change in politics in my time has been the transformation of democracy …the change from a citizens’ society to a consumer society, where most of us are caught up on that treadmill, trying to get more.
“And I think we’re at a very critical moment…. The power of money trumps the power of democracy today, and I’m very worried about it…and if we don’t address this, if we don’t get a handle on what we we’re talking about — money in politics — and find a way to thwart it, tame it…democracy should be a break on unbridled greed and power.
“But then you have to exercise your will optimistically, believing that each of us singly, and all of us collectively, can be an agent of change. And I have to get up every morning and imagine a more confident future, and then try to do something that day to help bring it about.”
I like the last lines in particular. It’s not enough to bemoan the decline of democracy or complain about the accumulation of wealth at the top — we need to act.
What we learn in Follett’s book is what many of us have learned from experience: There’s nothing so exhilarating or fulfilling as joining with others to fight for what you believe in.
It’s interesting: When the idea for this column popped into my mind, I had forgotten it would appear right after the Fourth of July — obviously, the hand of destiny.
CECILE ANDREWS is the author of “Less is More,” “Slow is Beautiful” and “Circle of Simplicity.” She can be reached at cecile AT cecileandrews DOT com.