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Review – 21 Speeches That Shaped Our World by Chris Abbott

Chris Abbott – 21 Speeches that Shaped Our World


Stirring, moving and illuminating.

The collection of speeches are far-reaching and cover most aspects that you can think of that have affected us, and are still affecting us in the 21st century, and some, like Margaret Beckett’s The Case of Climate Security that will be still affecting us in the years to come.

Chris Abbott seems to admit that it is human nature to separate ‘them’ and ‘us’, with him stating that this differentiation has determined most of the turmoil, of the two world wars, the Cold War and the current wars on terrorism. Whilst, it is human nature to feel this way, he admits that we, as individuals and working together in solidarity as a whole nation of the Earth, must combat this base human nature if any sort of peaceful resolution is to be found, for the present and for the future.

I feel that his speeches reflect this feeling.

His speeches, limited to 21 to mark the 21st century from which they are taken, are moving.

The subheading to the book is ‘The people and ideas that changed the way we think’. And the speeches do. Individually, they are all moving, motivational (in part I: All The World Is Human and part IV: Give Peace a Chance in particular), and they really do make you think.

But individually, I think it may be all too easy to read the speeches – or listen to them – and be moved for a moment to be forgotten the next. But by putting all of them together, Abbott has created a montage of the way we think – the way we thought – and how this has fundamentally changed us. It is the issues behind the speeches put together in this work that are the most moving. Granted the skilled orators standing in front of the speech writers in the shadows, portrayed the issues in a vivid light.

Chris Abbot, maintaining that all his opinions are his own, gives a commentary of the background of the person and the speech and also from what he gleams from the speeches. His words describe well the speeches which follow, and prepare you for the truth and context behind the words in order for you to better understand them.

He had diplomatically focused on a range of people, from all backgrounds, not just politicians in Britain, but from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Emmeline Pankhurst to Tony Blair and Barrack Obama. He also, surprisingly, includes a speech by Osama Bin Laden. But then again why shouldn’t he? Speeches are used as a means of force, to prove and to demonstrate your points, often powerfully and eloquently. Chris Abbott leaves hardly any rock uncovered, and his issues behind the speeches range from female emancipation to an apology to the stolen generations in Australia. And the speeches and his commentary really do make you think. Even now.

Throughout the pages of the speeches, Abbott, presumably, has outlined and highlighted key phrases and sentences, which again, presumably, he thinks best sums up the speeches as a whole.

“one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we can hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” [King]

“The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses.” [Rudd]

“we fight because we are free men who don’t sleep under oppression.” [Bin Laden]

“despite all the evidence, despite all the warnings, the understanding of the full range and scale of the threat we face is still not there.” [Beckett]

“we are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not.” [Blair]

“Let no one commit a wrong in anger.” [Gandhi]

“How much blood must be spilled? How many tears shall we cry? How many mothers’ hearts must be maimed?” [Fatayi-Williams]

“the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.” [Obama]

This book can be read from cover to cover. It can be read a random speech at a time, but I do recommend that however it is done, that you read all the speeches, as you get a whole sense of the issues that affect the entire world.

The book itself, while it can sit on the shelf with similar titled works, is in itself a unique collection, focussing not necessarily on the best, or the most dramatic, or shocking, but on those which were written/spoken in the hope to fundamentally change the way we think.

Some of the speeches we have all heard of and can remember well. Some are so ingrained in our memories that we can easily quote them.

“little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers [King; I have a dream..]”

“we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender [Churchill]”


Review for Newbooks Magazine

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