Surfing the century

28 01 2008

It’s 1901. Queen Victoria will die on January 22. Winston Churchill, returned from the Boer War a celebrity due to his bravery, his newspaper dispatches, and his escape from a Boer prison, is sitting in his first term in Parliament. On April 10, W. E. B. Du Bois will refuse Booker T. Washington’s  offer of a position at Tuskegee. The grandson of Emperor Meiji, given the name Hirohito, will be born 29 April, and sent away from his parents to be raised “unselfish, perservering in the face of dificulties, respectful of the views of others, and immune from fear.” On September 14, Theodore Roosevelt will become president.  Tolstoy will be excommunicated this year, protesting against the theft of civil liberties in Russia. Socialism seems on the rise around the world as 140,000 steel workers strike against the United States Steel Corporation. In Stockholm, the first Nobel Prizes will be awarded.


And I’m just getting started in my next reading project — to surf through the 20th century in these fine books, one chapter at a time, keeping them all fairly even in time.

Surfing the Century

W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1919: Biography of a Race (Owl Books)

Churchill: A Life

History of the Twentieth Century, A, Vol I: Volume One: 1900 – 1933

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

Theodore Rex


I didn’t buy them with this in mind — they are just books that I happened to be planning to read. But the idea has appeal, and I’ll see how it goes. Unfortunately, Du Bois is starting out behind — I’m up to 1900 in Churchill, and the others all start at 1900 or 1901, but he’s back in 1868, with 238 pages to get even with the others — nearly half the volume.


The only one I’ve read much of is this excellent biography of Churchill that my son Robin got me for Christmas this year — it happens to be written by Martin Gilbert, the author of the 3-volume history of the twentieth century (one volume pictured above) that I’ve had for most of this century, so I thought I’d get some historical context by reading the two together, then inspiration struck this afternoon — I’d read these other biographies from my shelf of future reading at the same time!


I’ll let you know how it goes — and, please, feel free to suggest other biographies that I can pick up along the way so I can make it all the way to 2000 in one big Cowabunga!




One response

28 01 2008
Sir Martin Gilbert

Thank you so much for your most encouraging words about my work.

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