More than a decade after I moved to our small city, I finally got to know Dan Brooks. He’d been mayor for more than twenty years when I had the opportunity to share a few observations with him and to provide input to some of his plans for no other reason than that I’d told the economic development director that I loved living there.
As I learned more about the work Brooks had done for the city—my city—I felt compelled to create an account of it.
He entrusted his memories and personal writings to me, unlike many public figures who insist on telling their story themselves because he believed, as I do, that his motivations and accomplishments speak for themselves. His provincial upbringing may have been poor preparation for many of the challenges that he would face, but the strength of his ambition allowed him to meet them and to make things better in his community than they were when he found it.
Order a copy of my biography of Brooks, Making Things Better, and remember what a good thing government can be when a public servant decides to promote solutions and not just himself.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus pulled the rug from under the worldview that had dominated Western thought since ancient times by contending that the earth was not the center of the universe.
Thomas Kuhn said in his book, The Copernican Revolution, that the idea that everything revolved around us had been “the basis of everyday practical and spiritual life” for centuries. So, for the average citizen, being told that the earth is just one of several planets that move around the sun, which is just one of an infinite number of stars, brought his identity under attack. Many were upset when they found themselves no longer, cosmologically at least, at the center of things.
Naturally, since the adoption of Copernicanism threatened to disrupt thinking in fields from religion and morality to art and philosophy, bitter opposition to it rose quickly—and persisted for a century and a half. The uniqueness and stability of the earth were deep-seated concepts that would not be surrendered easily. Indeed, throughout history, a number of ideas that reordered our view of ourselves first met with vehement opposition before reluctantly being accepted, as evidence supporting them became irresistible.
For centuries, Western thought has also been dominated by the worldview that the social order revolves primarily around rich, straight, Christian white men. But that idea is currently being challenged to a greater extent and from more sides, perhaps, than ever before. And vehement opposition to the change is present as always. Many in that group are upset that they are no longer seen as the immovable center of all things.
But just as Copernicus made it inevitable In the sixteenth century that the way man understood his place in the cosmos would be transformed—despite opposition and calls for the perpetuation of the existing order—it is inevitable in the twenty-first century that white men will no longer be able to stake an exclusive claim to the center of the social, economic and political universe. Calls for the perpetuation of this existing order will fade away just as the belief in an immovable earth eventually did, passing, as Kuhn said, from “an essential sign of sanity to an index, first, of inflexible conservatism, then of excessive parochialism, and finally of complete fanaticism.”
Unlike Jerry Seinfeld, I like to read books:
ELAINE: Kevin and his friends are nice people! They do good things. They read.
JERRY: I read.
ELAINE: Books, Jerry.
JERRY: [pause] Oh. Big deal.
My public library’s Twitter account—not surprisingly—promotes the value of reading for reading’s sake. (“No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.”; “You always hit a homerun when you read!”)
That’s great in itself, of course. But I think the books I read should benefit me and the people around me. I want someone to believe that I read a lot because things like these are true about me:
- Broad knowledge
- High level of curiosity
- Active imagination
- Open mind
- High tolerance for uncertainty
- Low stress
- Good memory
- Strong analytical thinking
- Great concentration
- Deep trust
- Large vocabulary
If so, then the time I spend reading books is a good investment in myself and others.