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Bookshelf

The top 10, in order:

1. Ted for Robert — Ted Kennedy’s eulogy for his brother, given two days after Bobby’s death

“He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side…

Those of us who loved him, and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us, and what he wished for others, will some day come to pass for all the world…”

2. The Mountaintop — Martin Luther King’s final speech, delivered the night before his assassination

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain… I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land…”

3. Victory or Death — George Washington’s rallying speech to the Continental Army on Christmas night, 1776, the night they crossed the Delaware to attack the Hessian forces

“Tonight, our mission, our duty as a free people, is to stem the tide of these atrocities, to retake what is rightfully ours and rid this great land of the plague of the mercenaries… And when the hour is upon us fight for all that you are worth and all that you cherish and love. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct that you show…”

4. Again I Pause to Remember — Christopher Hitchens’s Daniel Pearl Lecture on Anti-Semitism

“… I once wrote that anyone who wanted to defame the Jewish people would, if they were doing so, be defaming my wife, my mother, my mother- and father-in-law, and my daughters, and so I didn’t think I really had to say anything for myself.

But I did add that in whatever tone of voice the question was put to me — whether it was friendly or hostile — Was I Jewish? I would always answer Yes. Denial in my family would end with me.

But, of course, there was the most acute possible test of that question faced by the young Daniel Pearl, in the most appalling circumstances, and again I pause to remember how proudly, and how bravely, and how nobly he refused any sort of refuge in denial…”

5. The Rustle of a Wing — Robert Ingersoll’s eulogy at the passing of his young brother

“He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers…”

6. A World Split Apart — Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 speech at Harvard University

“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature… It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it…”

7. The Opening of the Nuremberg Trials  Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s introductory remarks at the Nuremberg tribunal

“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason…”

8. The Awful Grace of God — Robert Kennedy’s impromptu speech upon the shooting of Martin Luther King

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…”

9. The Defense of Freedom and Peace  — Winston Churchill’s address to the British people on the eve of World War II

“… People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy; but the antagonism is here now…”

10. How to Write  Sebastian Junger’s lecture on how to write with style and clarity

“… You are not more interesting than the world is. Your writing is not more beautiful than the world is. You don’t want the facts of the world to serve as a platform for your skill as a writer. It’s the other way around. The relationship goes the other way. Your skill as a writer serves the world.”

Honorable mentions: College, Life by yours truly; Let Us Plant Our Trees this Afternoon by John F. Kennedy; Consider the Great Problem of Women’s Bodies by Sam Harris; What Art Tells by Saul Bellow; The Highlight of the Election by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama