In the last letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, he asked, “Father, could you get me from the library Plutarch’s Lives of Great Men?” We do not know if the book ever reached the captive. I hope it did; few books could have provided more comfort.
Plutarch’s reach is very broad. Some years ago I was asked to write an article on “what was in the water in Wahoo.” A century ago that Nebraska town had only a few hundred citizens, but in one ten-year period it produced five little boys who grew up to be 20th-century great men: Howard Hanson, composer and head of the Eastman School of Music; George Anderson, painter of horses; George Beadle, Nobel Prize–winning economist and president of the University of Chicago; Darryl Zanuck of Hollywood; and Sam Crawford. Crawford was nasty Ty Cobb’s classy teammate, all-time record holder for most triples batted, and late-in-life electee to the Baseball Hall of Fame.