4 out of 4 stars
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Neil Thomas Proto has composed a biography of the intrepid A. Bartlett Giamatti, known as Bart. In 1977, at 39 years of age, he became the nineteenth and first non-Anglo-Saxon, president of Yale, and later, Commissioner of Baseball.
Bart exemplified the "Battle for Fairness in America." He was a first-generation American respected for his principled beliefs. He was a stickler for fairness, a family trait embodied in the women of the family, practiced in the neighborhood, and taught to the children – which included being a responsible citizen.
He advocated for people with very little power, importance or influence, like immigrants, the mentally ill, and gay students. As a student and professor of Renaissance literature at Yale, he was observant and knowledgeable of the movement advocating Eugenics. (A set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population typically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior and promoting those judged to be superior – Wikipedia.)
I am in awe of Neil Thomas Proto's ability to carry out immaculate research and produce this scholarly biography. He has annotated research notes for each chapter (186 pages in all) and written up detailed facts about Bart's father and grandfather and many family members; their lives in Italy, their anti-fascist point of view, the discrimination against southern Italians from northern Italy and the state of politics in Italy. Similarly, the author has provided an extensive history of Yale and New Haven and described the discrimination against African Americans and immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, so that the reader can appreciate the acceptance of Eugenics by many people and institutions in America. Bart had family living in New Haven and was aware of the neighborhood destruction carried out by the town officials in the name of urban renewal – which displaced 10,000 families.
I enjoyed the description of the Walton and Giamatti family's initial meeting in Italy and especially the education and subjects studied by Mary Claybaugh Walton (Peggy). She majored in Italian studies and Etruscan art. She spoke model Italian – "the language of Dante and the Florentines." The author also provides a delightful description of the Art Deco style SS Rex in which she and her Smith classmates sailed to Italy. She met Valentine John Giamatti on this voyage; Peggy brought her English heritage and Val, his Southern Italian. Their first child was Angelo Bartlett Giamatti or Bart.
A review of Fearless: A. Bartlett Giamatti and the Battle for Fairness in America would not be complete unless it mentioned Dante Alighieri, the Geoffrey Chaucer of Italy. Dante is notable for being one of the first authors to write "in the vernacular" instead of Latin, thus making his work accessible to many. Because Dante's writings so influenced Val and Bart, Neil Thomas Proto has provided an excellent introduction to Dante. Indeed, there is so much information in this biography that I think one would want to re-read it several times to appreciate all it has to offer.
I am rating this masterpiece 4 out of 4 stars. Fearless: A. Bartlett Giamatti and the Battle for Fairness in America is a "tour de force," examining the benefits of the immigrant population to the soul of America. I found no errors and nothing to dislike. I do not rate it 3 out of 4 stars because it is a part of history to keep in our hearts and minds, especially at this time of struggle for truth and honesty in American politics.
I recommend this biography to a broad audience of people who enjoy the history and politics of America, Italy, and New England. Also, stories of immigrants, an intellectual biography, a focus on ancestry, the notion of fairness, integrity in leadership, and so much more.
Fearless: A. Bartlett Giamatti and the Battle for Fairness in America
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