After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance overviews modern nonviolent movements by looking at a handful of practitioners who have brought about change using nonviolent resistance. The first and longest chapter, on Gandhi’s importance in South Africa and later in India, establishes the methods and ideas that will bridge each of the varied movements that are presented in the book. From there, brief chapters take the reader on a tour of resistance movement across the globe, from Burma to Kenya, China to Argentina, Australia to the United States.
Each of the short chapters begin by establishing the setting, using a charcoal drawing and the year in boldtype, and following that drawing with a few paragraphs of text that put the reader into the middle of that scene. While a few of the drawings were a little bit too abstract to really place the reader into the scene, the most effective drawings were a vivid introduction to a different place and time. The black and white image of an armed soldier running toward an unmoving monk in Vietnam or an angry mob standing off with a small group of protesters in Australia make the conflict that is laid out in the text feel more immediate.
Using these drawings to set the scene is one part of what, on the whole, is a stunning job of designing this book. Every detail has clearly been thought out, from the heft of the paper to the beautiful typefaces. Chapters are bookended with the large, often chaotic scenes at the beginning, and lovely calm portraits of the subject at the end. The text is framed within large swaths of white space, making me think of books designed by William Morris. And beyond focusing the reader on the text and allowing space for their thoughts to wander while still on the page, the white space also sets off the wonderful quotes that slash across the pages in a beautiful block print, framed in red. They’re so pretty that I kind of want to get one as a tattoo. This books is, without question, a joy to look at. I would have loved to have a note on the design included – if nothing else, so I could know what typefaces were used!
Much of the time it is also a joy to read. I was especially impressed by the choice of subjects, which covers a wide variety of people and places, and is careful to include women and people of many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. The authors also do an excellent job of mixing the people who we expect to see in a book like this one – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks – with people who readers will have heard of but might not expect in this context – Muhammed Ali and Cesar Chavez- and people and movements who most readers will never have heard of – Charlies Perkins, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams. Defining the time span at the last 100 years was a good choice, as it helps the book keep a tight focus, and also allows the reader to draw firm lines between the later resistance movement and their knowledge of Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance.
I had one major quibble with the text, which is that it sometimes seriously talks down to its readers. I wonder of the authors needed to do a better job of deciding who their audience was – the “More to the Story” sections, which give further information about the countries and conflicts, sometimes seem to be written for a much younger age group than the primary sections. For instance, the “More to the Story” section in the chapter about Vaclav Havel defines words like “intellectual,” “underground,” and “blacklisted” – words that readers have already been exposed to in the main chapter, and which could have been defined contextually rather than dropping a random dictionary definition into the text. I appreciate that the authors are probably trying to expand the possible readership, but I think that putting some trust in readers to find a dictionary or ask a question when necessary would have served them better. When the authors do have that trust in their readers, the text flows well and is very readable.
Despite those reservations, I think that this is an important book. It exposes young people to some people and stories that will move and inspire them, and gives them opportunities to make some wonderful connections between many different cultures and movements.
Anne Sibley O’Brien on the web
Perry Edmond O’Brien on the web