Prophet: The Hatmaker's Son, The Life of Robert Muller

by Douglas Gillies

Published by East Beach

285 pages, 2003

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Holding Out For A Hero

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get out of bed these days. I can no longer tell the good guys from the bad guys. I mean, I know the bad guys are truly bad but, some days, the good guys don't look too swift, either. I think things used to be easier but, increasingly, I'm having a difficult time remembering when. I pray -- I really pray -- that someday, things will be better. But I'm not as optimistic as I used to be. I'm starting to see how things could get worse. In short, I guess, I'm running out of hope. I think that, right now, a lot of us are.

This was my headspace when Prophet: The Hatmaker's Son, The Life of Robert Muller crossed my desk. Initially put off by a frighteningly new age cover design and clear but quaint typography, the book spent a few weeks migrating around the surface of my desk. An e-mail from my editor forced the issue and, finally, I cracked the cover. And was almost immediately drawn in.

Robert Muller was with the United Nations for 38 years, finishing his career with them in the UN's highest appointed position: assistant secretary general. Considered by many to be the father of global education, Muller's World Core Curriculum is used in schools around the world. Muller was the recipient of the 1989 UNESCO Peace Education Prize, the 1993 International Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanities, the 1994 Eleanor Roosevelt Man of Vision Award and has received 22 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author of 20 books including What War Taught Me About Peace, Dreams For A Better World and Safe Passage Into the Twenty-First Century. Too many of Muller's books are -- sadly and shockingly -- out of print.

Author Douglas Gillies was, I think, looking for a light before he met Robert Muller. In his preface to Prophet Gillies writes:

When I retired from law, I had an uneasy feeling that the world was getting worse and it didn't matter whose fault it was. We had made it this far. Let's just let bygones be bygones and look for a plausible, positive course into the future -- before it's too late! My trials were over, judgments were final, appeals were exhausted, and every case was closed. But every day, despite all the good intentions in the world, the world was getting worse.

Gillies met Robert Muller in the mid-1990s. In the intervening years, Gillies has interviewed Muller many times:

He was almost 80 years old and he still inspired hope and courage everywhere he spoke.

He's more than a man, I realized. Muller had worked for enlightenment and world governance for so long that he embodied the spirit of public service, but his lifelong commitment to peace had lifted him another notch. Robert Muller was a prophet.

Gillies explains his thoughts on prophets -- and why he feels Muller is one -- thusly:

Prophets come in different shapes and sizes. There are prophets who speak for God and prophets who foretell future events, prophets of hope and prophets of doom. All of them test our limits and challenge our beliefs.

When I first met Robert Muller, I asked him, "How can an ordinary person like me think like a global citizen?"

He said, "It's pretty easy. You just take everything you do and multiply it by six billion."

Gillies recreates Muller's eventful life: from his youth in war-torn Belgium in the 1920s, as a refugee, combatant and as a resistance fighter in World War II. In 1947, Muller won an internship with the then newly-formed United Nations, a posting that would lead to him spending 40 years with the organization. Though now retired, Muller is chancellor-emeritus of the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica.

His life has been dedicated to the establishment and maintenance of peace. Perhaps there has never been a time when his words -- and the important work carried out in his lifetime and under his gentle eye -- have been more important. More necessary for the good of our souls and even, in a very real way, of our lives. Douglas Gillies has done an admirable job reanimating Robert Muller's past, bringing home a message that has never been needed more. | March 2003


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.