On Nov. 6, The Times will award its annual Book Prizes in five categories--biography, history, fiction, poetry and current interest--along with the Robert Kirsch Award for a body of work by a writer living in or writing on the West. This week we publish excerpts from the books nominated in the category of current interest. LETTERS FROM PRISON AND OTHER ESSAYS
by Adam Michnik, translated by Maya Latynski. Foreword by Czeslaw Milosz. Introduction by Jonathan Schell (University of California Press) Adam Michnik, imprisoned for his involvement with Poland's KOR (the Workers' Defense Committee) and with Solidarity, writes, in this collection of letters and essays, of Poland's past struggles for independence and of his own current nonviolent opposition.
The point is, General (Czeslaw Kiszczak, Minister of Internal Affairs), that for me, the value of our struggle lies not in its chances of victory but rather in the value of the cause. Let my little gesture of denial (his refusal to emigrate from Poland) be a small contribution to the sense of honor and dignity in this country that is being made more miserable every day. For you, traders in other people's freedom, let it be a slap in the face.
For me, General, prison is not such painful punishment. On that December night it was not I who was condemned but freedom; it is not I who am being held prisoner today but Poland.
For me, General, real punishment would be if on your orders I had to spy, wave a truncheon, shoot workers, interrogate prisoners, and issue disgraceful sentences. I am happy to find myself on the right side, among the victims and not among the victimizers. But of course you cannot comprehend this; otherwise you would not be making such foolish and wicked proposals.
In the life of every honorable man there comes a difficult moment, General, when the simple statement this is black and that is white requires paying a high price. It may cost one one's life on the slopes of the Citadel, behind the wire fence of Sachsenhausen, behind the bars of Mokotow prison. At such a time, General, a decent man's concern is not the price he will have to pay but the certainty that white is white and black is black. One needs a conscience to determine this. Paraphrasing the saying of one of the great writers of our continent, I would like to suggest that the first thing you need to know, General, is what it is to have a human conscience . . . .
I am certain that this letter will seem to you yet another proof of my stupidity. You are accustomed to servile begging, to police reports on informers' denunciations. And yet here you have a man who is entirely in your hands, who is being harassed by your prosecutors, who will be sentenced by your judges, and who dares to preach to you about conscience.
However, you can no longer astonish me. I know that I will have to pay dearly for this letter, that your subordinates will now attempt to enlighten me about the full range of possibilities of the prison system in a country that is in the process of building communism. But I also know that I am bound by truth.
The American Empire in
by Walter Russell Mead (Houghton Mifflin) Mead traces the decline of America's liberal world empire and eloquently reasons that its post-imperial future must recognize America's social and economic interdependence with the Third World.
We have already seen that the crux of the contemporary economic crisis lies in the blocked political development of the Third World countries; that the democratic and working-class forces are unable to forge the kind of social compromise there that brought stability to the developing West. Only the active support of the powerful democratic forces in the advanced countries can resolve the impasse in the Third World; only a resolution of the Third World's political problems can protect the social compromise in the advanced countries.
Once again, interest and morality coincide, and enlightened American statesmanship has the opportunity to advance the interests of the American people by making the world a safer and more humane place for all its peoples. The weight of the American government and of the allied industrial countries must be thrown into the scales on the side of social compromise in the developing world--minimum wage, health care, education, pollution control, and other programs that increase consumption in the Third World countries. The world has grown too small to contain the extremes of wealth and poverty now found in it, just as the United States once grew too small for slavery and free labor to coexist any longer.
THE BLIND WATCHMAKER
by Richard Dawkins (W.W. Norton) Dawkins refutes critics of Darwin's theory of evolution, arguing that there is no divine watchmaker in nature beyond the blind forces of physics, and building a lucid, cogent case supporting the idea of cumulative natural selection.