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May 3, 2007 12:06 am

A Historian in Office

When Tony Blair steps down as the British PM"within the next few weeks," he is likely to be succeeded by a historian. At 16, James Gordon Brown (1951- ), the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, entered the University of Edinburgh to study history. He graduated with First Class Honors. Brown remained at Edinburgh for his doctorate, writing a dissertation on The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland, 1918-29. Thereafter, he lectured at Edinburgh and Glasgow College of Technology before his election to Parliament in 1983.

In 1986, Brown published a biography of the Independent Labour Party politician, James Maxton, a major figure in his dissertation. His subsequent books include Where There Is Greed: Margaret Thatcher and the Betrayal of Britain's Future (1989), Fair is Efficient: A Socialist Agenda for Fairness (1994), and Speeches, 1997-2006 (2006). Brown's Courage: Eight Portraits, with sketches of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Cavell, Nelson Mandela, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Cicely Saunders, and Raoul Wallenberg, will be published next month. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.

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Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2007

It's been -- oh, maybe 40 years since I read it -- but just looking at PiC's table of contents, Kennedy/ Sorenson's choices of "courageous" Senators seems odd to me now. While I admire some of K/S's choices (Adams, Norris, and, in my later years, Taft) how great was Edmund Ross's courage, if you _really_ think that Andrew Johnson should have been convicted and ousted from office? Or how great was L. Q. C. Lamar's courage, expended as it was in apologies for "redemption" of the white South from radical reconstruction? In other words, while "courage" may have great cache when politicians seek to burnish their reputations with the public, it may be, like sincerity, a second rate virtue. It really depends on what one is sincere or courageous _about_. In my opinion, Brown's made a much better choice of profiles in courage, but they're better choices because his characters are/were courageous in worthy causes.

Nonpartisan - 5/3/2007

Fair point. At any rate, since I like the original so much, I may like the Brown version too.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2007

I had a somewhat similar feeling about Brown's new book, when I read about it -- though I wouldn't say that it's "derivative of" PiC. Probably "inspired by" is more like it.

Nonpartisan - 5/3/2007

Everything I've heard about Brown indicates he's a good guy, but his book does sound just a wee bit derivative of JFK/Ted Sorensen's Profiles in Courage.

Even ripping off PiC isn't a new route to higher office; John McCain did it several years ago in Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life.