Speaker: Adam Hochschild

Lessons for a Dark Time: What Can History Teach Us?

With the skill of a journalist, the eye of a historian, and the heart of an activist, Adam Hochschild has been a leading voice on human rights issues for the past 40 years. He is the author of 10 books, including King Leopold’s Ghost ,To End All Wars, and his most recent, called an “exceptionally engaging biography” by the Washington Post, Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes. He also teaches nonfiction book-writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

For the body of his work, he has received numerous awards, including from the Lannan Foundation, the American Historical Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His books have been translated into 15 different languages. The themes in Hochschild’s books explore the timeless struggle of good versus evil in the hopes of creating a better world.

Born in NYC in 1942, Hochschild was the only and long awaited child of older parents. From the outside, his childhood, which he wrote about in a memoir, Half the Way Home, seemed idyllic. His father was a powerful businessman, his every move strategic, controlled, and successful. His mother was doting and ever present, stepping in as intermediary between father and son whenever necessary—which turned out to be often. 

Perhaps these were the seeds for his life calling to examine the roots of injustice. After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in history and literature, he set out for worlds different than his own. He spent a summer working at an anti-apartheid newspaper in South Africa, and then, in the American Deep South, witnessed firsthand the horrors of segregation. He was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. After beginning his career as a reporter for California daily newspapers, he spent ten years as a magazine editor, most of it at Mother Jones, which he co-founded. He has also written for The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, Granta, and The New York Times Magazine.

The subjects he has written about include some of the darkest of human history—like Stalin’s death camps, or a forgotten Holocaust in the Congo—yet Hochschild’s spirit remains light, steady, and quietly assured. When asked how he remains hopeful, he replied, “If I were only, or even mainly, writing about the evils of the world, my books would be so depressing no one would read them! Nor would I have much fun writing them. I think of myself as writing about people who tried to make the world better.”

At 77, he shows no signs of slowing down. The advantage of being a writer, he said, is that “unlike those in other lines of work, from ballerinas to quarterbacks, you never have to retire.” Hochschild is already deep into his next book. It’s fair to assume the characters, like Hochschild himself, will once again battle injustices and prejudice, hoping to make a lasting change in the world. Once and for all. 

Join us in conversation with this gifted historian whose hindsight might provide us with the foresight to restore the threatened values of justice, peace, and compassion.


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