I’m back to one of my favorite subjects again… READING and BOOKS.
Today I want to share with you about an American publisher friend of mine, Robert L Bernstein, who just released his autobiography called: “Speaking Freely, My Life in Publishing and Human Rights.” Robert not only had a long career as a top publisher, but continues, now at age 93, as a prominent human rights activist! He started this work back in the 1970s, protecting the rights of people around the world to speak, to publish, to read, and to write, what they want… freely.
Before I tell you about Robert’s human rights work– some of which I’m honored to say I now play a small part — let me first tell you a little bit about his story:
Robert started his publishing career right at the bottom of the pile as an “office-boy-in-waiting,” (that was the title he gave himself) not long after serving in World War II in Morocco briefly, and India. He first started work at a publishing company in New York City called Simon and Schuster (which came up with the innovations of selling crosswords and paperback books, back in the day). After he got fired there (you have to read the book; it wasn’t because he didn’t do great things), he moved to Random House where he started in the sales department… and eventually led the whole company, for 25 years!
Over time, as a top publisher, Robert knew very well the power of the written word, yet saw how authors and publishers in some countries were living in dangerous situations, at risk of being imprisoned, or worse, for the work they were doing.
As a very young Jewish boy in America, Robert had heard firsthand how words (spoken or hidden!) could save lives and expose truths, and also end lives and hide truths. Listening to dinnertime stories (at his grandfather’s apartment) told by Jewish refugees who his grandfather helped flee from the Holocaust — these were doctors and professors and others who’d lost almost everything — Robert heard tales about the lives they’d left behind, and also about how they were starting all over again as strangers on a new continent.
But as a young unemployed man looking for a job, just out of the war, Robert didn’t set out to be a book publisher. He wanted to go into radio or television, an exciting new technology at the time. Then someone suggested work at a publishing company… and he decided to give it a try.
__That decision not only changed his own life, but turned out to change the world!
Maybe it was his early memories of the poverty he saw in India, the corruption he saw in Morocco and the tragic, but also inspiring, stories he heard at his Grandfather’s dinner table… maybe it was all those things that helped inspire him to become a prominent activist for Freedom of Expression (some people call him the modern “father of human rights”!)
First, Robert started the “Committee on International Freedom to Publish,” then the “Fund for Free Expression,” and then “Human Rights Watch” which still exists today, an organization he even felt free enough to criticize strongly a few years ago when he thought it was going the wrong direction…
Now I’m not going to tell you Robert’s whole story, because I hope you’ll look it up and be as inspired as I was when I first met him several years ago.
__I’ve told you before how you can learn a lot from biographies and autobiographies of great people. This book has some really important stories, whether you’re starting out in business or been there quite a while:
In this book Robert shares stories from his life that highlight the importance of ideas (both thoughts and actions); the great power, of course, of reading and writing; managing people (“hire and delegate”); and also, innovation in his work as both a publisher and a social activist.
# And where did his whole career start in the 1940s?! Innovation (ideas just “pop into my head”)… and sales and marketing!
A few years ago, I was so inspired that my wife and I decided to help fund the Masiyiwa-Bernstein Fellowships at the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at the New York University Law School, which was launched (with his sons Tom, Peter and Bill) in April 2015. One of Robert’s sons, Tom, is the Chairman of the Board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where I also serve on the Committee on Conscience (which focuses on genocide prevention).
I count myself honored to be associated with Robert and all his family’s human rights work, and am really humbled that he’s mentioned me in his book.
You can order this important book online as a hardcover or e-book at https://www.amazon.com/Speaking-Freely-Publishing-Human-Rights/dp/1620971712
Image credit: NYU School of Law