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If you haunt book sales as often as I do, you get very used to the sight of John Gunther's "Inside ..." books.  Starting with Inside Europe in 1936, Gunther,  who was one of the premier foreign correspondents of his day, cranked out a series of voluminous (900 pages) books about the peoples, politics, economies, etc. of each of the continents.  I finally grabbed a couple and read them and though they are obviously quite dated, they stand up nicely as frozen moments in world history, observed and written by an outstanding journalist.

I'd somehow never even connected him with this tender memoir, perhaps because I'd managed to avoid reading it in grade school.  (my wife has been reaping a savage revenge, parading around the house sneering at my failure to read it and questioning the value of a Mountain High School [West Orange, NJ] education.)  While Gunther was finishing Inside USA, his 16 year old son, Johnny, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died within 15 months.  Gunther wrote the piece for friends and family, but was prevailed upon to publish it in order to comfort other parents and, in the manner of such things, it has become his most enduring work.  It's absolutely wonderful and I can see why it is assigned reading for so many kids.

The tragedy of Johnny Gunther is the human tragedy writ small; his triumph is our triumph.  At one point Johnny cried out to his Mother : I have so much to do! And there's so little time!   This is the dilemma that confronts mankind.  Our mortality will prevent us from achieving all of the things that we yearn to accomplish.  How much worse to know that you will die before even becoming a man?

But Johnny Gunther did not despair.  He did not sink into maudlin self-pity.  He struggled against the illness and lived as full a life as time allotted.  He faced death bravely, trying to comfort doctors and family who were frustrated by their inability to save him.  As his father wrote: ...he did not die like a vegetable.  He died like a man, with perfect dignity.

Inured as we have become to stories of death, particularly early death--having gone from Brian's Song to Love Story to disease-of-the-week TV movies--it is easy to forget that the best of these stories, and this is certainly one of the best, demonstrate the indomitable human spirit and the heroism that is accessible to all of us.  To be human is to be given the opportunity to live and die with dignity.  Johnny Gunther did so; his story is ultimately triumphant.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -STUDENT REVIEW: Michelle Moon (Grade 6/Van Antwerp Middle School/Niskayuna, NY)
    -FIND A GRAVE: John Gunther  (b. August 30, 1901. d. May 29, 1970)
    -EXCERPT: MANUEL QUEZON from John Gunther's Inside Asia (1938-39 edition)
    -EXCERPT: The High Cost of Hiter by John Gunther
-A Man From Mars: Fifty years ago John Gunther, a brilliant foreign correspondent, published a famous book about "the greatest, craziest, most dangerous ... most powerful and magnificent nation ever known" (Arthur Schlesinger Jr., The Atlantic)
     -50 YEARS LATER, AMERICA'S FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS REMAIN (National Perspective  by David Shribman)