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Book Review: Wisdom of Progressive Voices, edited by Joanne Boyer

In today’s sound-bite world, it is easy to forget that cogent maxims can be more than buzzwords and arise from more substantive expressions of thought. Although they may encapsulate a principle or theme, they aren’t necessarily designed to be a 15-second snippet.

Wisdom of Progressive Voices, compiled and edited by Joanne Boyer, is a good reminder of that. The book profiles and collects quotations of 23 Americans Boyer says “have articulated a ‘forward thinking’ view of political, social, and environmental issues of their times.” The book aims to show a broad spectrum of “progressive” America from the Progressive movement until today. Thus, in addition to contemporary figures, those profiled and quoted include Robert LaFollette, John Muir, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt and Rachel Carson.

Broken down by individual and not subject matter, it is apparent the book includes at least two topics that seem to take it beyond a collection of standard political subjects. One is the explicit inclusion of environmental issues. Not only is it often referred to, the specific inclusion of John Muir and Rachel Carson reinforces the prominence of the subject. The other topic is the deleterious effects of war and the aim of an ongoing commitment to peace. These topics arise in part because Boyer sets out with a specific definition of “forward thinking.” To her it requires recognizing the interconnectedness of all human beings, that hate tears us apart, that education is a treasure and that peace is always far more profitable than war.

Although a relatively slim volume (less than 150 pages), Wisdom of Progressive Voices contains far more than quotations, though. Not only does it contain profiles of the 23 individuals, it contains a list of books where the reader can learn more about each person. Still, there are a couple areas where it is a bit lacking. One is that, with rare exception, none of the quotations is sourced. Just as the list of books allows the reader the opportunity to explore the individuals, citing sources would enable a person to investigate a particular speech, essay or book. The other potential downfall is the book does not categorize or index any of the quotes by subject. As a result, if you generally recall a particular quote but not its source, you would have to page through the book until you found it.

Certainly, neither omission is substantive and does not undercut the content. The first volume in a planned series called The Wisdom Voices in which future volumes are planned to include international voices, Wisdom of Progressive Voices is both an engaging read and a handy reference for those interested in bona fide Progressive thought.


Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in
Joanne Boyer, Wisdom of Progressive Voices

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