I first read Sternstunden der Menschheit (Decisive Moments in History) by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig as a young man. The collection of miniatures about events that changed the world, such as Robert Scott and his expedition to reach the South Pole, is achingly beautiful and as suspenseful as a novel that must be devoured at once.
I have read the book only in its original German, but I am sure the English translation conveys just as stunningly the fateful decisions made in just one day, or even a few hours or minutes that can change the course of history.
I’ve been thinking about Sternstunden der Menschheit a lot lately for two main reasons. The first is the sad realization, brought home every day, almost every hour, that there is very little heroic about the current occupants of the White House. Just one year ago, I was so optimistic about the United States’ trajectory through history.
The other reason, though, is the courageous efforts of writers, artists, scholars, and even politicians who are rising to the occasion to save democracy in America.
It has happened before in history during times of resistance.
I had the honor of living through the end of the Cold War as a very young man who lived close to the border of east and west Europe as the Iron Curtain first slowly and then with a stunning sense of inevitability fell apart piece by piece.
Those were days filled with true Sternstunden, exhilarating, breathtaking moments that define history and the greatness of humanity!
Call me an optimist, but I believe the world and especially the United States right now have extraordinary potential for many more Sternstunden.