There is a new best seller in France. Who is the author?
He was born in Berlin in 1917 and emigrated to France aged seven. During the Nazi occupation of France, Hessel joined the French resistance, was caught, tortured and and deported to Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps where he escaped hanging. After the war, he helped to draft the universal declaration of human rights and later became a diplomat.
What does he have to say?
The book argues that French people should re-embrace the values of the French resistance, which have been lost, which was driven by indignation, and French people need to get outraged again. “This is an appeal to citizens, young and old, to take responsibility for the things in our society that don’t work,” he said. “I wish every one of you to find your own reason for indignation. It’s precious.” Hessel’s reasons for personal outrage include the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, France’s shocking treatment of its illegal immigrants, the need to re-establish a free press, protecting the environment, the plight of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the French welfare system. He calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection.
Does this sound like a book that emerged from a committee or the relentless churnings of the publishing industry?
Proving that age is no boundary to publishing success, the French book world has been taken by storm by a surprise Christmas bestseller: a political call to arms by Stéphane Hessel, 93.
Launched in October by Indigène, a small publisher working out of an attic in Montpellier, southern France, the book had a tiny first print-run, 6,000, and sold for €3, unprecedentedly cheap in a country where book prices are regulated and kept high by the law
I am not surprised that people would rally to the distilled wisdom of an old man in times like these. His work is having success because his age and experience allow him to penetrate the fog of “me-to-sim” and conventional wisdom. This kind of insight represents, in the words of my old friend Wendy Lustbader, What’s Worth Knowing.