One of the projects I worked on from the middle of last year (in many capacities, most notably as an editor and all-round busybody) is a book of profiles and biographies titled Giants of History. (322 pages. Sage Publishers. Lagos)
Written by journalist, and politician, Lateef Ibirogba (Currently the commissioner for Information in Lagos State), it is a look at 150 selected great men and women in history whose lives were exemplars of tenacity, dedication, leadership, and hard work – most of them. Readers who pick up the book will see why these descriptors don’t apply to all of the “giants” selected. The only thing that ties them together as deserving of being in the book is the extraordinarily notable lives they lived, the number of lives they touched, the power of their example, and their tremendous influence on the generations that followed them.
I was drawn to the book because of a number of reasons. When I was young, one of the most notable books I read that opened my mind to the idea of doing great things, and living a life worthy of being written about, was a book by Sanya Onabamiro titled Philosophical Essays (1980), and another by Tam David West, also with a similar title: Philosophical Essays: Reflections on the Good Life (1980). What both of them did – and I can’t tell one apart from the other anymore now – was lay down arguments supporting or opposing particular events in history, while highlighting why they had to happen and who was responsible. I will get those books again if I can ever find them, but one of the most important things they did for me was to open my mind, and challenge me to dream. They also informed me about a number of relevant historical events and their effect on the world. When I was invited to work on Giants of History, I had flashbacks to my delight with these great books. The format that Lateef Ibirogba chose to use in presenting this book in was just as important, and the role of his book serves just about the same purpose as highlighting history for those interested in it, and giving credit where due to the important human precursors to today’s important inventions and achievements.
The book has now been published, to be launched in Lagos on April 22nd. I will be there at the launch, which should feature a number of heavy names in politics, publishing, and writing in Nigeria. The book reviewer, Tade Ipadeola – a lawyer and creative writer – was the winner of the 2013 Nigerian Prize for Literature (the highest literary prize on the continent, which carries a prize money of $100,000). I expect that the governor of the state will be there as well, along with a number of other still-living Nigerians whose names also made it into the book. It is important to mention that one of the impressive nature of a work of this kind is its good sense to include in the work not just historical figures from older civilizations around the world, like Plato, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, but also notable historical figures from our own national environment, like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mary Slessor, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Madam Tinubu, Fela Kuti, Chinua Achebe, among many others.
I invite you to look out for the book, and to buy not just for yourself, but for your relatives, especially the young ones not yet sure of where life would take them, or what the point of everything is. If I could still remember the influence of a book on me as a thirteen-year old reader, then precocious thirteen year-olds around you will definitely appreciate you giving them a gift of such work.
A contrarian case might be made as to why publish a book of biographies when there is Wikipedia and the world-wide web to inform us – in multimedia richness – of the lives of living and dead heroes. The answer would be that the book is not dead. It is movable and presentable, and it is still the closest way to reach a reader, not hindered by access to electricity or the internet. It can be read in the village as in the city, and thus its relevance.
The book is available for purchase for now at www.digitalbooks.com.ng.