This book is a large format hard back volume. It collects profiles of people from different countries, in different fields of activity and from different time periods. All these people are outstanding practitioners or leaders in one field or another, and all have different disabilities, both physical impairments and mental health needs. Beethoven for example was so deaf that he could not hear a performance of his last quartets. But he sensed the vibrations of the music through his body and thus produced some of his most haunting work. Stephen Hawking, who discovered many truths about the cosmos and in particular about black holes, had motor neuron disease. He used a wheelchair and a voice synthesiser. At the age of twenty he was told he had two years left to live. He survived until the age of 76. Frida Kahlo’s painting is celebrated, despite having to spend much of her time in bed as a result first of polio and later of a spinal injury incurred in a motor accident.
34 such people are celebrated. Each of them has a one page abbreviated biography in which that person’s impairment is not the first thing mentioned. Instead that person’s passion for a given field is the first thing mentioned. Each profile also includes a bright half page illustration. The illustrator also includes in some portraits a mobility aid if one is used. The priorities asserted in these profiles are rare and distinctive.
This reviewer must cite one criticism of an otherwise laudable book. The profiles are too short. They have been cut short to get more cases covered. Fewer but longer biographies would have made a better job of describing some less well-known persons. And what is omitted is the darker side of lives marked by disability. Such sombre issues are sometimes hinted at, but not properly covered. Nevertheless this is a useful and innovative book.