Who isn’t a fan of something — or someone? So consider this my fan’s note. To my mind, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is among the greats of our time. His writing has “it” — that indefinable quality you can’t describe but know as soon as you read it. He’s created a style that combines the best of journalism, history, and fiction and a form for his books that, as far as I know, has no name but involves short bursts of almost lyrical reportage, often about events long past. As it turns out, he also carries “it” with him. I was his English-language book editor years ago and can testify to that, even though on meeting him you might not initially think so. He has nothing of the showboat about him. In person, he’s almost self-effacing and yet somehow he brings out in others the urge to tell stories as they’ve never told them before.
Call it charisma if you want (though I still remember a professor of mine pointing out, in reference to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, that what’s charisma to one is zilch to another). Explain it as you will, from Memory of Fire, his three-volume history of the Americas, to his recent Children of the Days, a kind of prayer book for our time, he’s never stopped telling us our own stories in ways we haven’t heard them before.
At some point in Galeano’s life as a collector of stories, history decided to trust him and spilled its secrets to him. In 2009, he returned the favor by writing one of the great books of this century,Mirrors, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, from our first myths to late last night. Thanks to his publisher, Nation Books, and his devoted literary agent, Susan Bergholz, I’ve chosen 12 of my own favorites from that work for your summer pleasure. Think of this post as a Galeano-esque mini-history of our last century of turmoil through a kaleidoscope of “characters,” human and inanimate — and then get your hands on Mirrors and read the whole thing for yourself.