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The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age With the Human Rights Movement

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After Jeri Laber earned a Master's degree in Russian studies at Columbia University, she became a part-time writer and editor and a full-time wife and mother. Then one day in 1973 she read an article about torture that altered her life and subsequently the lives of countless others around the world. The Courage of Strangers tells how Laber became a founder and the executive After Jeri Laber earned a Master's degree in Russian studies at Columbia University, she became a part-time writer and editor and a full-time wife and mother. Then one day in 1973 she read an article about torture that altered her life and subsequently the lives of countless others around the world. The Courage of Strangers tells how Laber became a founder and the executive director of Helsinki Watch, which grew to be Human Rights Watch, one of the world's most influential organizations. She describes her secret trips to unwelcoming countries, where she met with some of the great political activists of the time. She also recalls what it was like to come of age professionally in an era when women were supposed to follow rather than lead; how she struggled to balance work and family; and how her fight for human rights informed her own intellectual, spiritual and emotional development. This story of the birth of the human rights movement is also a sweeping history of dissent and triumph in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Elegantly written, full of passion, humor and political wisdom, it is exciting history as well as a moving, entertaining, inspiring story of a woman's life.


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After Jeri Laber earned a Master's degree in Russian studies at Columbia University, she became a part-time writer and editor and a full-time wife and mother. Then one day in 1973 she read an article about torture that altered her life and subsequently the lives of countless others around the world. The Courage of Strangers tells how Laber became a founder and the executive After Jeri Laber earned a Master's degree in Russian studies at Columbia University, she became a part-time writer and editor and a full-time wife and mother. Then one day in 1973 she read an article about torture that altered her life and subsequently the lives of countless others around the world. The Courage of Strangers tells how Laber became a founder and the executive director of Helsinki Watch, which grew to be Human Rights Watch, one of the world's most influential organizations. She describes her secret trips to unwelcoming countries, where she met with some of the great political activists of the time. She also recalls what it was like to come of age professionally in an era when women were supposed to follow rather than lead; how she struggled to balance work and family; and how her fight for human rights informed her own intellectual, spiritual and emotional development. This story of the birth of the human rights movement is also a sweeping history of dissent and triumph in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Elegantly written, full of passion, humor and political wisdom, it is exciting history as well as a moving, entertaining, inspiring story of a woman's life.

30 review for The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age With the Human Rights Movement

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kian

    This is a memoir of one of the founders of the American and international human rights movement. Easy to read, well-written, informative back story of how Jeri Laber, one of the first women to study Russian at Columbia University in the 1960s, was inspired to devote herself to a career in supporting human rights around the world. She describes the costs of this single-minded commitment had on her personal life, her marriages and which took time away from her children. She recounts meeting many f This is a memoir of one of the founders of the American and international human rights movement. Easy to read, well-written, informative back story of how Jeri Laber, one of the first women to study Russian at Columbia University in the 1960s, was inspired to devote herself to a career in supporting human rights around the world. She describes the costs of this single-minded commitment had on her personal life, her marriages and which took time away from her children. She recounts meeting many famous dissidents such as Vaclav Havel, and Andrei Sakharov and describes James Bond like tactics in slipping past Communist secret police to get money and assistance to activists behind the Iron curtain. It is an indispensable history for readers interested in how the human rights organizations she founded, most notably Human Rights Watch, got their start and what happened to them after the fall of Communism.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    I just spent a day reading this book and I'm so thrilled to have read it! This book represents such a timely meaning for me in many ways, starting from the moment where I can relate personally making human rights responsible for inspiring me to change my career into the one that I am now. Having spent time in DC visiting the Holocaust Museum and Neuseum, spending three weeks in Guatemala learning about human rights context and all the bits and pieces of past learnings in human rights in general I just spent a day reading this book and I'm so thrilled to have read it! This book represents such a timely meaning for me in many ways, starting from the moment where I can relate personally making human rights responsible for inspiring me to change my career into the one that I am now. Having spent time in DC visiting the Holocaust Museum and Neuseum, spending three weeks in Guatemala learning about human rights context and all the bits and pieces of past learnings in human rights in general - my trips to Berlin and South Africa, my internship experience with Human Rights Watch - all came together for me in this book. Not to mention that I immediately was transported to her travels in Eastern Europe - a region that I have not yet visited. I am so humbled by the people she writes about, people who live to defend their rights even if meant arrests, injuries, torture, knowing murder could happen. And the work never ends... I've had this book on my shelf since 2005, when I received the book as a gift from my internship days at HRW - it was incredible to read about its foundings and this woman who traveled to expose human rights violations in the most admirable way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    Jeri Laber’s memoir is an interesting record of the ascendency of human rights through the fall of the Eastern Bloc . Laber was one of the top organizers of the American human rights “movement” along with a number of other wealthy, well-placed Jewish New Yorkers during the 1970s and 80s. As a college student—a philosophy student of Sidney Hook’s!—she studied Russian culture and politics, being one of the first Americans to visit the USSR after Stalin’s death. By chance she joins a small group of Jeri Laber’s memoir is an interesting record of the ascendency of human rights through the fall of the Eastern Bloc . Laber was one of the top organizers of the American human rights “movement” along with a number of other wealthy, well-placed Jewish New Yorkers during the 1970s and 80s. As a college student—a philosophy student of Sidney Hook’s!—she studied Russian culture and politics, being one of the first Americans to visit the USSR after Stalin’s death. By chance she joins a small group of elite New Yorkers in the early years of Amnesty Intl, rising through the ranks and inspiring an old-boys club of Jewish anti-Communists. With the turning point of the Helsinki Accords—plus WASP foundation money—Laber helps build what will become Human Rights Watch into the formidable, but all-too-human, NGOs it is today. Stories of her visiting dissidents and arranging conferences are boring and repetitive—if necessary—but her fights with the vile Reagan appointee Elliott Abrams are insightful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Traces the true beginnings of Human Rights Watch - back when it was Helsinki Watch and took up only a single tiny office (and, I would say, was a much more useful organization - but pardon my personal cynicism here). Also an interesting read about a woman trying to balance an exciting professional career (doing good and important work internationally) and raising a family - with both successes and failures.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Awesome, awesome memoir by the founder of the Human Rights Watch-- a must for anyone interested in the human rights movement.

  6. 5 out of 5

    jane

  7. 4 out of 5

    YeJi

  8. 5 out of 5

    Helen Ng

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maren

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mars1994

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gaylene

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robert Martin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eunice

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nanna Elisa

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mariah Tyler

  19. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tiny

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ali Rizvi

  23. 5 out of 5

    Josilyn Sakura

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marcella

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin Crane

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sammie Scheer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nisha

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sades8

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

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