Written By: Albert Schweitzer Edited By: Hans Walter Bahr Translated By: Joachim Neugroschel Reviewed Edition: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1992 Hardcover, 420 Pages ISBN 0-02-607171-1 Quotes Table of Contents
The primary virtue of this book is the insight it gives into Schweitzer's later life. His early years are covered in his autobiographical books, but he wrote little biographical information on his last thirty years or so. This collection of his letters clearly shows how busy he was running the hospital at Lambarene. Various letters also discuss his "outside" interests, including Reverence for Life, disarmament, and organs.
Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with the book. Most of the letters are very short, just a paragraph or two. Many are just acknowledgments of friends' and supporters' letters to him, along the lines of "Thanks for your letter. Sorry I haven't written sooner. Been very busy." Not that I blame him--he was very busy--but it doesn't make fascinating reading.
Highlights of the book were his letters to famous people, particularly his letters to Einstein and President Kennedy about disarmament. There is a good index in the back, which allows you to go back and find letters about particular topics or to particular people.
[Excerpt of a letter from Schweitzer to President Kennedy, 20 April 1962] "... I also take the courage, as an absolute[ly] neutral person, to admit that I am not quite convinced that the claim that one state can oblige the other to tolerate an international control commission on its territory is juridically motivated. This right can only exist after the states agree on disarmament. Then a new situation will have been established, which will put an end to the cold war and which will give each state the right to know, through international inspection on each other's territory, that each country meets its obligations to disarm according to the agreement. The same international control will see to it that no tests can be carried out.
An urgent necessity for the world is that the atomic powers agree as soon as possible on disarmament under effective international control. The possibility of such disarmament negotiations should not be made questionable by not absolute[ly] necessary appeals for international verification of the discontinuance of testing.
Only when the states agree not to carry out tests anymore can promising negotiations about disarmament and world peace take place. When also this time this cannot be achieved, then the world is in a hopeless and very dangerous state. ..."
[Excerpt of a letter to Reverend Dr. Oskar Pfister, Zurich, 19 December 1926] "... As the most universal expression of the ethical, the only things I can still posit (despite its vagueness and coldness) is reverence for life. Life, of course, is the most universal and yet the most immediately determined phenomenon. Oh, what confusion was caused by the poet when he sententiously said, 'Life is not the supreme good.' I can apply this aphorism to myself, but I cannot apply it to someone else's life, for his life is precisely the one thing through which I relate to him. I must regard his life as his supreme good. ..."
[A letter to Dr. Hans Hickmann of Polydor International, 1959 or 1960] "In Africa I have a chance to see what it means when the creations of the great masters of composition can be heard in a perfect rendering, anytime, anyplace, whenever the mood strikes us. How different it was in my youth when we sometimes had to wait months or years to reexperience an opus that appealed to our souls in a special manner.
This possibility of becoming familiar with the masterpieces of music is a spiritual advance that must be valued highly for our civilization. It is of special importance that Bach can now be revealed to us completely.
I must therefore thank you for making the treasures of music accessible to us."
Translator's Note Editor's Note on the Text Preface
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