What I love about doing biographies is that the subjects cease being cardboard cutouts. Their complexities become apparent, sometimes endearing, and sometimes eyebrow-raising. And still, it’s impossible to really know them.
That was never more true than when I researched Al Gore last year for my latest biography.
Gore has the unfortunate lot of being polarizing. Nobody’s neutral about Gore. For many, he represents liberalism at its finger-waggingest, along with wealth, an ivy league education and political advantage. His father was a U.S. Senator and by all accounts, his mother groomed him almost from infancy for political office. He wasn’t dubbed the Prince of Tennessee for nothing. For others, Gore is a modern-day Cassandra, with both the foresight and the lengthy trail of disbelievers. He also represents crushed hopes in the form of the 2000 election.
The polarization surrounding him appear par for the course. I discovered a man whose life was a study in contrasts. He attended rural Tennessee schools and worked the land with farmhands, but also lived in a Washington hotel and attended exclusive private schools. The toughest contrast to reconcile was his unflinching fight for an environment free of toxins, while still advocating for tobacco farmers, even after losing his beloved sister to lung cancer.
Despite understanding what’s behind people’s feelings about Gore, I’m still not sure why his advocacy for the planet is received with such ire. Gore’s interest was piqued when he was a child, observing farmers’ conservation efforts, and then pushed further when his mother read him Rachel Carson‘s SILENT SPRING. By the time he arrived at Harvard and met Professor Roger Revelle, becoming a “conservation hero” was just a matter of time.
Gore has devoted a huge amount of time, resources and energy to educating people about environmental dangers, pushing legislation, and investing his own money in forward-thinking technology. Even if you don’t care for him personally, what’s the objection to a cleaner environment, and economically beneficial tech?
Gore’s not a perfect guy, but he’s no foe either.