Tag Archive: Gandhi


Review by C.J. Bunce

As history writer Colin Salter remarks in his new book 100 Speeches that Changed the World, “Speeches have always been the greatest form of advocacy.  The speaker’s careful choice of words, phrases, and sentences to persuade his or her audience is as creative an act as the poet’s or playwright’s.”  And the speech has a job to do, a mission to accomplish.  “They must convince the listener of something; perhaps a speaker’s devotion, an apology, a government’s decision, or an accused man’s innocence.”  Speeches have a target audience, and if written and delivered well, they can change the world.  Salter has collected 100 speeches to defend the thesis in his title, that words can change behavior, and that his selections fit the bill.

Any time a writer conquers a work that looks like a list, along with considering and listening to the rationale for the inclusion of the entries, the reader is required to challenge that list.  It’s the challenge and fun of these kinds of books to ask whether these are good choices, bad choices, or whether there are better works that should have been included.  In the case of 100 Speeches that Changed the World, most of the speeches are from the 20th century, so there is a modern sensibility here.  This is a book ideal as a supplement for a high school or 100 level college literature course–most entries are from Americans, but many are from England.  Socrates’ response for being accused of corrupting the youth of Athens is the oldest, from 399 B.C.  Yet only five speeches pre-date the Gregorian calendar (so this isn’t a book for ancient history readers).  William Wallace, Patrick Henry, Robespierre, Frederick Douglass, Chief Joseph, and several U.S. Presidents and authors make up much of the rest, with emphases on the World Wars.  Lincoln, Hitler, Churchill, FDR, MLK, JFK, Mandela, and Obama have multiple entries, with the most artful commentaries included coming from the mouth of Churchill (four).

Stranger references are to responses, not actually speeches, from Elvis Presley and John Lennon.  Some court case opinions and comments are included, but they seem out of place here, fulfilling the usefulness and persuasiveness of works, perhaps, but do not merit inclusion as “speeches.”  Still 100 Speeches that Changed the World is a thought-provoking review of how men and women have used words to make great things happen, and also twist them to bring about their own ill ends.

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Attenborough in Jurassic Park

The motion picture industry lost a great director and character actor this weekend with the passing of Richard Attenborough at age 90.  Attenborough likely will be best remembered because of his starring role as the jolly John Hammond, the “spared no expense” creator of the dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park (1993).  Rightly so.  The adventure film will go down as one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, and his performance is a big reason for it.  Michael Crichton’s Hammond had been killed off in the original novel, but there was too much of the amiable Attenborough in the film version of Hammond and Steven Spielberg knew audiences wouldn’t stand for a similar fate for the film version.  Attenborough would return to the role again in The Lost World (1997).

But Attenborough’s greatest feat was not being an actor, as he would take up making movies behind the camera with a second successful career as a major studio director.  That work earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Gandhi in 1982.  He went on to a decade of critically acclaimed directing gigs, helming A Chorus Line (1985) with Michael Douglas, Cry Freedom (1987) with Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline, Robert Downey’ Jr.’s acting comeback in Chaplin (1992), and Shadowlands (1993) with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Attenborough McQueen The Sand Pebbles

Never the guy for leading man roles, the character actor proved his skill with three other great films, two of which earned him Golden Globe Awards for Supporting Actor:  For Albert Blossom in Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Frenchy Burgoyne in the 1920s naval drama starring Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles (1966).  He’ll also be known for his performance as squadron leader Big X in The Great Escape (1963).  And he even played opposite John Wayne in his brief detour from Westerns in the cool 1975 cop film Brannigan.  But his best role in film?  It’s one not to be missed.

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