By Abdul Rahman Odoi
Books appear somewhat immune to disease. Their pages are often flipped and, for centuries, they never looked sick. Rather, they continue to vaccinate the minds of generations with an immune knowledge.
All historical men who lived in the face of the earth flirted with books. This flirting, however, left them pregnant. In the end they birthed life-changing theories and facts, feasible visions, sustainable improvements, enabling resolutions, and inviolable inventions.
That being so, briefly, let’s talk about some of these men.
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah: The first President of Ghana whose passion for African liberation and intellectual warfare against neo-colonialism, the white supremacists and some unpatriotic Ghanaians saw as a deadly virus.
His contribution towards education and literature is far unmatched in the history of Ghana. Nkrumah had a fulfilling relationship with books, and a great knack in telling history and stories, with a beautiful sense of humour. He relates history as though it’s now unfolding.
To his credit, there are about sixteen books. No government of Ghana comes an inch closer to that feat. Each of his books speaks volumes about his love for the renaissance of black people, African unity, and magnificent visions.
In Conakry, after the overthrow on February 24, 1966, sympathizers had begun sending Dr. Kwame Nkrumah letters and messages of solidarity, thinking he was having an never ending grief.
Rather, he was flirting with books. Mentioned in “Dark Days In Ghana” that “I have been able to do so many things I longed to do but never had the time. I have been able to read as much as I like, to study the latest books on politics, history, literature, science, and philosophy, to step my writing, to reflect, and to prepare myself physically and mentally for the militant phase of the revolution.”
If Nkrumah ever wept, then it was as a result of getting to know that his personal office, following the overthrow, “where documents of all kinds were being filed, and valuable records were being built up, got ransacked.”
Ideally, he should have overly cried over the loss-power, like most politicians do when they lose an election or position, but Nkrumah was agonizing about ‘books’.
The painstaking work of many years they had destroyed. Many thousand of books in his library which were senselessly torn up, or burnt.
But why did the National Liberation Council (NLC) burn his books and documents if they weren’t afraid of the truth? Regardless of their schadenfreude, Nkrumah exposed them in his books, particularly ’Dark Days In Ghana’, which he began writing while he suffered the coup.
This can only be done by a great man who loves to romance books. Though he was put on the political guillotine, he still had time to flirt with books, to present and preserve the unadulterated history about his regime. Had it not been so, the (NLC) would have been successful in spewing their “Big Lie”, but Nkrumah’s books exposed their master treachery.
Charles Robert Darwin: The brain behind the theory of evolution by natural selection. As a deep researcher, his tenacity of reading, authoring of books (he had a lot of books to his credit), and writing of letters is worth noting.
In 1838 alone, he had arraigned a giant list of books for reading. Recently, Cambridge University published some 1,200 letters exchanged between Charles Darwin and his closest friend, the botanist, Joseph Dalton Hooker.
History has it that when Darwin contemplated about marriage, in order to have his way out he listed some pros and cons to either consider marrying or not.
It will leave you dazzle to know that among the very things he listed that marriage would hinder him from doing was, to put it simply, flirting with books.
And thus he didn’t want to marry: (1) No quarrelling, (2) Freedom to go where one likes, (3) Choice of society and little of it, (4) Conversation of clever men at clubs, (5) Not forced to visit relatives, (6) Not forced to bend to every trifle, (7) He would have more money for books, (8) Time to read books in the evening, and (9) No expenses and anxiety of children.
Martin Luther King Jr: Luther was an American Baptist minister and social activist who became much popular during the era (1950s) when the black man was regarded across Europe as nothing better than a black soil.
He headed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and they ruined the racist systems by fighting the segregation the white supremacist had imposed.
This caste system made the whites superior over the blacks, so much that in a bus, the blacks would have to stand while the whites sit, even though there were still empty seats.
One Sunday, in the afternoon, Luther Jr. journeyed to Philadelphia. He had gone there to listen to Dr. Mordecai Johnson who was the president of Howard University. The sermon targeted the Fellowship House of Philadelphia.
Dr. Johnson had returned from a trip to India at the time, and to make his presentation electrifying, he spoke about the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
Luther King Jr. confessed (in his autobiography) that the lecture was captivating. Thus, before he would have left the meeting, he had bought almost a “half-dozen books on Ghandi’s life and works”. Who buys half a dozen of books, if not one who loves books!?
He began reading those books and became particularly interested by Ghandi’s ‘Salt March’ to the sea and other numerous feast.
His flirting with the book caused him to understand Ghandi’s concept of “Satyagraha” (truth force or love force). It reoriented his understanding about social activism.
When their struggle with the whites supremacists had become intense, and people were hoping that they would have retaliated the violence meted out by those whites with violence, he chose ‘nonviolent resistance’.
Such was the technique he culled from Mahatma Gandhi, who believes that “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”
Luther Jr. authored a couple of books and letters: his autobiography, I Have A Dream, Why We Can’t Wait, Where Do We Go From Here, Stride Towards Freedom, The Trumpet of Conscience, and many others.
Prof. Benjamin Solomon Carson: The first to have successfully separated twins conjoined at the head.
He was, however, growing up as a dumbest kid whose mates thought he was altogether aimless. Little Ben had always scored zero in class. And subsequently he became a laughing stock for everyone.
Then, all his hours were spent watching television and playing after school, until his mother set a new decree which crippled his watching of television. He was put to reading of two books in a week and writing a report about those books he had read.
Reading became entertaining, as everything he read in his books opened a new way for him to becoming a refined mind in the school. In a span of months of post flirting with books, he had begun topping his class, breaking and setting new records.
Ben Carson, indeed, grow up to become a professor of neurosurgeon, plastic surgery, oncology, and pediatrics, and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical institution. He’s a bestselling author, and holds a cornucopia of magnificent achievements.
If Ben hadn’t flirted with books, he’d have never become great. His gifted hands would have remained amputated. But for flirting with books, he conquered his fears and figured out the solutions for the cure of cancer and many other diseases by the help of God.
Pro. Ben Carson hasn’t made the world bereft of the events heralding his triumph. As a book lover, he has beautifully put together everything he had faced in life since childhood till date.
Gifted Hands, Think Big, Take The Risk, The Big Picture, You Have A Brain, Created Equal etc., are his books when perused, readers would have a big dream, if they are to render its principles into practice.
Adolph Hitler: The con man the world hates to hear his name. He was, in the early 1930s, championing “Hitlerism” which later became Neo-Nazism.
The mention of him isn’t problematic at all. According to Clause Hant, a German writer, Hitler was not as illiterate as once thought. He was an extremely well-read man who also had an extensive knowledge of art.
But here is the twist to his widened reading. While other great men were making good use of books, Nazi-dominated students groups, in the beginning of May 10, 1933, perhaps under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, were carrying out public burnings of books they claimed were “un-German.”
The book burnings took place in 34 university towns and cities. Works of prominent Jewish, liberal, and leftist writers ended up in the bonfires.
The book burnings, axiomatically, stood as a powerful symbol of Nazi intolerance and censorship. So the Nazis, Hitler’s party, flirted with books by forcibly killing books.
Among the 20,000 volumes student leaders hurled into the flames that night were the writings of well-known socialists such as Bertolt Brecht and August Bebel; the founder of the concept of communism, Karl Marx; critical “bourgeois” writers like the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler; and “corrupting foreign influences,” among them American author, Ernest Hemingway, and many others.
A hundred years before the advent of Hitler, a German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, had declared: “Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.”
And just like a prophecy, Heinrich Heine words saw light. On May 21, 1942, 4,300 Jews were deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all of them were gassed to death.
Albert Einstein: As a young boy born to Jewish parents in Germany, his teachers initially called him slow and lazy. And by the time he left school at the age of 15, one teacher remarked there was nothing left to teach him. (source: Golden).
He had some ups and downs, but finally became a genius whose theories of relativity gave the world new ways of looking at time, space, matter, energy and gravity.
His work led to important advances including the control of atomic energy, space exploration, and applications of light.
But note also that before Albert Einstein, there was a great scientist called Ibn Sina. He was indeed a true polymath with his contributions ranging from medicine, psychology and pharmacology to geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and philosophy. He was also a poet, an Islamic scholar and theologian.
The Nazis didn’t spare him; Albert Einstein was on their death roll because his views opposed their fascism. He had to seek asylum in England to escape Nazi threat.
Ben Carson Leopold Infeld who worked with Einstein, described him in his autobiography ‘The Quest’ as a man who flirted with books. “Einstein,” he said, “lay in bed without shirt or pajamas, with Don Quixote on his night table. It is the book which he enjoys most and likes to read for relaxation.”
The list could go and on talking about the relationship great men had with books. Suffice to say, therefore, that flirting with books isn’t immoral.
Clarence Shepard Day Jr.: “The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man; nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nation perish; civilisation grow old and die out. After an era of darkness, new races build others; but in the world of books are volumes that live on still as young and fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s heats of the heats men centuries dead”.