Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue, by David J. Bobb
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
Humility is a virtue I have struggled with in both its extremes, both in eschewing the arrogance that results from letting one’s recognition of one’s talents and abilities lead us into an attitude of contempt or disrespect of others who are not so blessed, as well as in the maintenance of a proper dignity and self-worth in light of the humiliation, shame, and abuse of my early life. This book, in exploring the vivid historical examples of notable figures from American history in its first century of independence, is both short (at under 200 pages of text) and easy to read, as well as full of excellent insights from history as well as a very clear and worthwhile perspective.
There are half a dozen examples of American humility and greatness conjoined, in the stories of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Douglass. Each of these examples provides its value and its personal relevance. Benjamin Franklin’s lifelong struggle against pride is an example for many of us who struggle likewise. George Washington’s willingness to give up power was a sign of faith in our nation’s institutions that allowed for the triumph of civilian rule over the military as well as the temporary nature of America’s leadership, avoiding a permanent and dynastic and dictatorial government such as is all too common around the world. Madison’s patience and devotion to the freedom of conscience as well as his own hard work in leadership and political groundwork showed that humility and severe weakness need not keep someone from being great. Abigail Adams’ lack of formal education did not stop her from being close to my own ideal for a wife: unflaggingly loyal to her husband and children, with an insatiable desire for learning, a passionate and loving heart, compassion combined with honest candor, great abilities at managing a household and providing wise counsel to her appreciative husband, and a devotion to social justice and a compassionate and vigorous defense of the vulnerable and oppressed. I wish for such a woman as my own wife, and I fervently hope that I am or will become the sort of man who is worthy of such a woman’s love, honor, and respect. Abraham Lincoln was a man whose ambition for public office knew no limits, but his wisdom in seeking to preserve our nation and his willingness to suffer abuse for doing the right thing the right way is a noble example worthy of our deepest respect and emulation. Likewise, Frederick Douglass’ struggle to maintain his sense of dignity despite the harrowing abuses and humiliations of his youth in slavery, and his growth and moral and political and educational development are an example that human dignity does not depend on one’s origin or ethnicity or the beginnings of one’s life. All of these examples can serve as personal inspirations for those of us for whom dignity and humility are important goals.
Notably, and significantly, the author puts these biographical profiles in humility in a theological and philosophical context including the philosophy of Socrates and Aristotle as well as Christian belief that is thought-provoking in its defense of the primacy of Christianity over the Greek philosophical tradition, and its showing how our humility before God and our honest admission of our own shortcomings as well as our appreciation of the help of others as well as the mature devotion to labor and effort in bettering ourselves and serving the well-being of others. This particular work is a historical work of great value, of a small enough size and of sufficient importance to be read and reflected upon. If our age is to repent and humble ourselves in the face of our creator, this book and the points it makes will need to be widely read and understood. As a strong defense of the importance of public duty and service for those who wish to be great in achievements as well as great in spiritual and moral development, this book offers a decisive critique of selfishness and amorality in leadership, and a mighty defense of virtuous Christian servant leadership, making it an immensely worthwhile as well as easily digestible work.