The good-hearted side of colonialism

In his day Albert Schweitzer was a supernova, as famous as Gandhi, Einstein or Mother Teresa, but his star has dimmed somewhat today, not the least because his work in Africa as a doctor is now seen as paternalistic – a good-hearted side of colonialism. He was a Lutheran, but a liberal one, influenced by the Enlightenment, who studied philosophy and theology and famously wrote about the historical Jesus. He also famously turned his back on an academic career to study medicine and apply his skills in the African jungle. There he not only built (literally) and ran a hospital, but also wrote best-selling books about his experiences. He was also a famous organist and organ builder, and wrote a biography of Bach. In 1953 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nils Oermann describes all this in his slim Albert Schweitzer: A Biography (Oxford), with the concision to be expected when covering the ‘life, thought and work’ of someone who did so much. While not shying away from Schweitzer’s faults, Oermann suggests Schweitzer remains an inspiration because he was a genius with a practical side, able to put his intelligence to good use.

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