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Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015

Basic Biittner : Book Review

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Lesser-known Giants of the 20th Century" is a non-fiction work whose subject is summed up very well in its title. It was written by Charles M. Aulino, who is an attorney with a 30-year background in estate, trust, tax, and financial planning and practice, A New Jersey native and resident, Aulino is described as "a serious amateur pianist and private pilot" in a press release for the book.This may be his first book, though I am not certain about that.

Aulino's book concerns the stories of eleven "lesser known" people, according to its title. Most of the eleven are quite well known, actually, for some achievement thay have accomplished, and most would be considered successful or famous. What Aulino's book attempts to do, however, is to look at these eleven people's "backstories" and uncover some achievements which are perhaps not as well known as the achievements for which they have become famous.

Aulino says he got the idea of doing the book after he read the life story of world -renowned pianist I.G. Paderewski, who, in addition to being the one-time toast of the performing arts world, was also a political activist and a signer of the Treaty of Versailles.

"After learning the amazing life story of Paderewski," said Aulino, "it occurred to me that there must be other people who accomplished great things in life, became celebrities as a result, but whose stars have grown faint over time. In today's world, we can greatly benefit from the lessons of their lives."

Indeed, in a letter to me, Aulino stated that "It is my wish that this book may become popular among young people, who are the least likely to know much - if anything - about these giants, and the most likely to draw inspiration from their stories. It is Aulino's hope that young students will be encouraged "to reach per aspera ad astra when they read the book.

For those of you who don't know what that last phrase means - and I include myself in that group - "per aspera ad astra" is a Latin phrase which means "To the stars through difficulties." It is attributed to Seneca the Younger, and the phrase, or a variant thereof, has been used by several organizations and groups as a motto or inspiration through the years. Among the many who have been inspired are NASA; the air forces of two or three countries; several colleges and universities; Beta Sigma Psi fraternity; Sigma Gamma Phi sorority; the state of Kansas; actor Neil Patrick Harris, in Episode 18 of Season Four of the "Doogie Howser, M.D." television series; Starfleet Command in Star Trek; and the inscription on the crest of Pall Mall cigarette packages. Variations include "To the stars through hardships," and "Through adversity to the Stars."

The bottom line is, Aulino feels that each of the subjects in his book overcame adversity to achieve greatness.

The eleven subjects of Aulino's book include the afore-mentioned Paderewski, along with A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America and friend of enterprising immigrants; Moe Berg, intellectual baseball player - and spy; Max Schmeling, world heavyweight champ and reluctant symbol of Nazi power; Joe Louis, winner of the "fight of the century" against Schmeling, and advocate for African-Americans in the U.S. Military; Branch Rickey, architect of baseball's farm team system and terminator of segregation in Major League Baseball; Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman nominated by a major party for U.S. President and champion of civil liberties and civil rights; Medgar Evers, field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi at the zenith of the Civil Rights struggle; Katherine Graham, head of the Washington Post, and overseer of the Watergate coverage which led to President Nixon's resignation; Paul Winchell, legendary ventriloquist who also happened to be the inventor of the artificial heart; and Edward Said, an intellectual who brought the plight of the Palestinians in Israel to the Western world's attention.

The eleven subjects profiled are indeed worthy of recognition, and Aulino attempts to bring their "hidden" achievements to the reader's attention through this sort of "poor man's 'Profiles in Courage,' " if you will. That he is not a professional writer is evident in the pages of the book, but - as they say - "it's the thought that counts," and Aulino's thought to bring the little-known achievements of already "successful" individuals to the attention of a younger generation is laudable.

Lesser-Known Giants of the Twentieth Century (ISBN 978-1-4392-2548-6) by Charles M. Aulino, is available for $19.99 at Amazon,com

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner